The Mystery of America’s Marriage Crisis

There is an intriguing mystery surrounding what might be called “America’s marriage crisis.” The mystery is why isn’t anybody, besides a few pundits talking about the dramatic drop in the number of Americans tying the knot?

Only 26% of poor adults between 18 and 55; and 39% of working-class adults in the same age group, were married according to data compiled by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and Opportunity America. That marks a dramatic cultural shift, because as recently as 1990; 51% of poor adults and 57% of working-class adults were married, New York Times Upshot Writer Claire Cain Miller noted.

The big surprise here is that nobody seems to be talking about these statistics. Neither the left nor the right seems that concerned with what looks like a collapse in the institution of marriage.

That too marks a paradigm shift in a country that used to be obsessed with “family values.” Had such figures appeared 25 or 30 years they would have sparked a heated national debate. Today they are greeted with a deep yawn from both sides of the ideological spectrum.

Why nobody wants to talk about the Collapse of Marriage

Class, conceptions of national identity and ideology explain the reluctance to discuss the crumbling of American matrimony.

These figures point to some significant cultural and social differences between American classes that refute our national delusion of a classless nation. The lack of marriage among the poor and working class discredits the notion that America is a “middle class” nation.

Americans hate the idea of class and refuse to deal, hence our failure to come to grips with growing income inequality. The AEI study The Marriage Divide: How and Why Working-Class Families Are More Fragile Today indicates that a larger percentage of American no longer accept and perhaps cannot afford norms of “middle-class” lifestyle.

It also found that 56% of middle and upper-class Americans were married which indicates a correlation between marriage and economic success. A particularly troubling conclusion here is that America’s economy can no longer support a middle-class lifestyle. Large numbers of Americans simply cannot afford to get married or finance a middle-class lifestyle.

How Ideology Stops us from Discussing the Marriage Divide

Most troubling is the way that ideology is preventing us from discussing or even considering the implications of the Marriage Divide.

Those on the right are afraid to discuss the divide because it points to a failure of capitalism and makes a strong case for new antipoverty efforts. Miller noted that those with a college degree are more likely to be married. That makes a strong case for “U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders’ free college for all proposal,” something libertarians, Republicans, and Clinton-style New Democrats do not want to hear.

Another troubling cause of the Marriage Divide is the weakness of cultural institutions, particularly religion, which undermines cultural conservatives’ ideology. Poor and working-class people; who are more likely to be religious, are less likely to be married, something that turns Conservative Christian ideology on its head.

The Left fears any data that indicates the Right, particularly Conservative Christians, might be correct. Particularly data that shows popular culture might be undermining institutions like marriage.

Today’s culture does little to promote marriage, 35 years network TV gave us The Cosby Show and Family Ties, which celebrated marriage and middle-class culture. Today, television either ignores marriage or openly mocks it with satires like American Family.

Why Income Inequality and the Marriage Divide will Get Worse

Either way leaders on both sides of the aisle do not want to see the Marriage Divide – let alone talk about it. No Republican wants to see data that indicates expensive social programs might be necessary and perhaps beneficial. No Democrats want to see data that indicates conservatives might be right about culture.

That means the marriage divide, and the income inequality that drives it is likely to get worse before better. Academics Miller interviewed pointed to lack of income as the main reason why poor and working-class people do not marry.

“They say, ‘If he’s not offering money or assets, why make it legal?’ ” said June Carbone, a law professor at the University of Minnesota and the author with Naomi Cahn of Marriage Markets: How Inequality Is Remaking the American Family.

That points to a need for things like Basic Income, a Higher Minimum Wage, Single-Payer Healthcare, economic stimulus, and more investment in education. It also indicates that government programs that support stay at home moms and promote marital stability might be needed.

Nobody should hold their breath waiting for political leaders to discuss the marriage divide or try to deal with it. The issue is one they do not want to see because it points to the failure of their ideologies and worldviews.