Eagle Forum Legislative Alerts

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Economic factors for marriage decline

Robert Samuelson’s Wash. Post column says:
It’s hard to overstate the breakdown of marriage and the rise of single-parent families. ...

Just what caused these changes remains controversial. In his 2012 book “Coming Apart,” Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute cited shifts in cultural norms. Having a child out of wedlock became more common and acceptable; the sexual revolution enabled men to get sex without marriage. The waning power of religion undermined the importance of family. Feminism and expanding welfare programs made it easier for women to survive — through jobs or aid — on their own. Liberalized divorce led to more breakups.

But there’s also a more strictly economic case. In a paper for Third Way, a liberal think tank, economists David Autor and Melanie Wasserman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology attribute the decline of marriage — which, like Murray, they say is concentrated among the poorly educated — to the eroding economic heft of men compared with women. Women are more independent economically; men are weaker. Marriage has lost much of its pecuniary pull.

To this hypothesis, they bring much statistical evidence. From 1979 to 2010, inflation-adjusted hourly wages for men age 25 to 39 with only a high school diploma fell 20 percent, while the wages of similar women rose 1 percent. Among those with some college (but no bachelor’s degree), women’s wages were up 8 percent; men’s were down 8 percent. As important, fewer men and more women proportionally have jobs. From 1979 to 2007 — prior to the recession — the share of male high school graduates with jobs fell 9 percentage points; job-holding by similar women rose 9 percentage points. For those with some college, men were down 6 percentage points, women up by 12 percentage points.

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