Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Marriage Gap

It is almost impossible to argue for a tradition. Usually, the reason a certain practice is a tradition instead of a theory is that the evidence for its value is so dispersed that it is extremely difficult to put it together. So religion imposes and carries on what might otherwise be lost. It builds altars to exalt it and refines anathema to defend it.

Now we've got statistics and the slowly dawning realisation that, just because something isn't always true doesn't mean that it isn't usually true. A case in point is marriage.

Three paragraphs from an article by Kay S. Hymowitz, which summarises her new book Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal Families in a Post-Marital Age. First, two of many significant statistics.

Virtually all—92 percent—of children whose families make over $75,000 are living with both parents. On the other end of the income scale, the situation is reversed: only about 20 percent of kids in families earning under $15,000 live with both parents.
[T]he Marriage Gap—and the inequality to which it is tied—is self-perpetuating. A low-income single mother, unprepared to carry out The Mission, is more likely to raise children who will become low-income single parents, who will pass that legacy on to their children, and so on down the line. Married parents are more likely to be visiting their married children and their grandchildren in their comfortable suburban homes, and those married children will in turn be sending their offspring off to good colleges, superior jobs, and wedding parties.
The mentality that works
For one thing, women who grow up in a marriage-before-children culture organize their lives around a meaningful and beneficial life script. Traditional marriage gives young people a map of life that takes them step by step from childhood to adolescence to college or other work training—which might well include postgraduate education—to the workplace, to marriage, and only then to childbearing. A marriage orientation also requires a young woman to consider the question of what man will become her husband and the father of her children as a major, if not the major, decision of her life. In other words, a marriage orientation demands that a woman keep her eye on the future, that she go through life with deliberation, and that she use self-discipline—especially when it comes to sex: bourgeois women still consider premature pregnancy a disaster. In short, a marriage orientation—not just marriage itself—is part and parcel of her bourgeois ambition.
Read it all. It's long but worth it and there's some quite surprising stuff.

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