In The Atlantic this week there was a piece that pointed out that income inequality shouldn’t be blamed only on tangible changes in the workplace, such as automation replacing middle-wage workers. A sincere effort to stem the gap between those at the top and bottom of the income scale would involve addressing the marriage crisis in our nation.
Marriage used to be a pairing of opposites: Men would work for pay and women would work at home. But in the second half of the 20th century, women flooded the labor force, raising their participation rate from 32 percent, in 1950, to nearly 60 percent in the last decade. As women closed the education gap, the very nature of marriage has changed. It has slowly become an arrangement pairing similarly rich and educated people. Ambitious workaholics used to seek partners who were happy to take care of the house. Today, they’re more likely to seek another ambitious workaholic.
So, any rise in family incomes is more often than not because mom has entered the workforce, too. Raising children seems to have become a two-income undertaking. So where does that leave single parents? The news is not good.
Single moms or single dads, once rare, now lead 26 percent of all families, twice their share in 1950. . . . Median incomes among families led by single dads and single moms have flat-lined or worse in the last few decades, falling behind those of married couples, whether or not the wife is working.
Single moms and single dads are more likely to be poor, not only because they don’t have help in the household, but also because they didn’t have much money to begin with.
In a strange twist, marriage has recently become a capstone for the privileged class. The decline of marriage, to the extent that we’re seeing it, is happening almost exclusively among the poor. The lowest-earning men and women (i.e.: the least-educated men and women) have seen the steepest declines in marriage rates.
And the majority of single-parent households are found among minorities. Though the reasons are still up for debate, the results are not.
The decline in marriage rates among poorer men and women robs parents of supplemental income, of work-life balance, and of time to prepare a child for school. Single-parenthood and inter-generational poverty feed each other. The marriage gap and the income gap amplify one another.
The marriage inequality crisis creates a virtuous cycle at the top and a vicious one at the bottom. It pushes educated and non-educated Americans into entirely different worlds.
Read the full story here.