Monday, March 5, 2012

New Marriages or No Marriages?

by Nancy Folbre

New York Times

March 5, 2012

Motherhood without marriage is on the increase in the United States, particularly among women under 30 who have not completed college. One big question is why.

Some conservatives, like Rick Santorum, blame feminism for encouraging women to work outside the home. Others, like Charles Murray, emphasize the corrupting effect of public assistance. Many liberals, like Thomas Edsall, assert that this story leaves out the effects of deindustrialization and growing economic dislocation, which have reduced the number of marriageable men.

What I see is a culturally contested adjustment to the changing role of women, an adjustment impeded by growing income inequality but eased by education.

As the empirical trajectory unfolds, it becomes easier to assess these competing explanations. Once literally described as a “pathology” of the black community, nonmarital births reached about 29 percent of the total for whites in 2009.

Public assistance can’t take the blame. The trend extends well beyond women eligible for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or the Earned Income Tax Credit. Strict new work requirements, paternity tests and child support enforcement policies introduced in 1996 have not significantly increased marriage among low-income families. Nor did the federally financed Healthy Marriage Initiative have a discernible effect.

The loss of manufacturing jobs and declining real wages for non-college-educated men help explain why many feel they can’t support a family. Women’s higher employment levels and increased earnings relative to men help explain why many feel they can afford to go it alone.


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