Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013: The original version of this column failed to attribute a passage about the marginalization of marriage in the middle class to a report by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, "When Marriage Disappears: The Retreat from Marriage in Middle America." It has been edited to correct this error. A version of this column appeared in the June 19, 2013, print edition of the Deseret News on page C1 under the headline "Education is foundation of good marriage."
The National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia comes to one rather surprising but very strong and well-supported conclusion. It is that the more educated people are, the better chance they have of getting married and staying married.
Moderately educated couples, even those with some college under their belts, are increasingly less likely than college grads to get married and to stay married.
In the study, the core conclusion is: “The most consequential marriage trend of our time concerns the broad center of our society, where marriage, that iconic middle-class institution, is foundering.
“For the last few decades, the retreat from marriage has been regarded largely as a problem afflicting the poor. But today, it is spreading into the solid middle of the middle class. These are people who work. They pay taxes. They raise children. They take family vacations. But there is one thing that today’s moderately educated men and women, unlike today’s college graduates or yesterday’s high-school graduates, are increasingly less likely to do: get and stay happily married. And this is a group that represents 58 percent of our population.”
Highly educated Americans, on the other hand, who make up 30 percent of the adult population, now enjoy marriages that are as stable and happy as those four decades ago. Thus, there is a growing "marriage gap" between moderately and highly educated America.
According to the study, this "marginalization of marriage in Middle America is especially worrisome, because this institution has long served the American experiment in democracy as an engine of the American Dream, a seedbed of virtue for children, and one of the few sources of social solidarity."
Of course, there are exceptions. We know many moms and dads who did not complete college degrees who have wonderful marriages and exceptional kids.
But statistically, in the last four decades, moderately educated Americans have seen their family lives begin to look more and more like those of the least-educated Americans (defined as having no high school degree), who make up 12 percent of the adult population.
Here are the categories where there have been steep increases among moderately educated Americans and stability or decreases among those with college degrees:
Divorce or separation within 10 years of marriage.
Percentage of births to never-married women.
Percentage of women who have had three or more sex partners.
Percentage of marrieds who have had sex with someone other than their spouse.
Percentage of men unemployed at some point in last 10 years.
And here are the categories where there are big decreases among the moderately educated and stability or increases among the better educated:
Those saying they have a “very happy marriage.”
Percentages of intact first marriages.
Percentage of kids living with both parents.
Percentage believing that premarital sex is always wrong.
Percentage who attend church regularly.
The study concludes with this chilling sentence:
“It is one of the great social tragedies of our time that marriage is flourishing among the most advantaged and self-actualized groups in our society and waning among those who could most benefit from its economic and child-rearing partnership.”
Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at www.EyresFreeBooks.com or www.valuesparenting.com. Their latest Deseret e-book is “On the Homefront."