Monday, August 27, 2007

Studying Marriage

Some interesting statistics with a twist of interest for Wisconsin.

In recent decades, demographers have documented a remarkable "retreat from marriage" in the United States. This retreat is evident in data showing that between 1970 and 1995 the percentage of Americans 15 or older who ever marry fell from 97% to 89% of women and 96% to 83% of men. [Some evidence indicates that the trend continued through 2003.] Scholars have understood for some time that "the retreat [from marriage] has been accompanied by increases in women's paid employment, declines in the male/female wage differential, greater income inequality among men, and the persistence of racial gaps in economic status."

OK. We kinda knew that. So?

The Penn State researchers base their investigation on data collected between 1989 and 1991 in Virginia, North Carolina, and Wisconsin, noting that "the male and female percentages ever marrying in [these] three states are fairly similar to those in the United States as a whole." Though they see nothing in marriage data that distinguishes these three states from the rest of the country, they do see strong evidence that different social groups within these states are moving apart in their marital behavior.

The data indicate that-depending on the state examined-between 83 and 89 percent of white men and 88 and 92 percent of white women will marry during their lifetimes, compared to between 68 and 86 percent of black men and 60 and 82 percent of black women. "The percentages ever marrying for black men and black women," the researchers remark, "were substantially lower [than for white men and white women]. With mortality ignored, about 40% of black women in North Carolina and Wisconsin would never marry before age 50 under the rates observed during 1989-1991."

"Not marrying" does not mean "not having children," however.

Combining statistics for race and education, the researchers calculate that "the percentages ever marrying for blacks with fewer than 12 years of education range from 38% to 65%, whereas the comparable figures for whites with 16 or more years of education are 89%-96%"

Surveying the overall pattern, the authors of the new study plausibly conclude that "the retreat from marriage is being led by those with the least resources." Given the importance of wedlock in safeguarding social and cultural well-being, readers of this new study have good reason to worry that the social gaps dividing the haves from the have-nots are growing wider and wider in 21st-century America.

(Source: Robert Schoen and Yen-Hsin Alice Cheng, "Partner Choice and the Differential Retreat from Marriage," Journal of Marriage and Family 68 [2006]: 1-10) Family in America Newsletter 8/27/07

It's also well-known that women generally marry for security--that is, they marry someone whom they percieve as offering economic security for a (potential) family.

So the study's results are not too surprising, although they put a different spin on the usual facts.

Black women do not foresee economic stability (or security) in the men with whom they are acquainted--especially those men who have not graduated from high school, much less college. Thus, they don't marry them.

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