The National Marriage Project's State of Our Unions 2009 Report was released in December, but in the holiday whirlwind I missed it. It provided an update on the state of marriage, primarily through examining the impact of the Great Recession on marriage. The research they reported was surprising in some categories, affirming in others. One key finding contradicts a longstanding canard that men prefer to marry less educated women. The Marriage Project reports having a college education actually increases a woman's chance of marrying.
Some key findings are below, but I can summarize them quickly by saying that God's design for family relationships is still the best pattern for happiness and wealth. No surprises there, really. (Note, please, the pithy summary of best long-marriage indicators in bold below.) But here are some statistics about the relationship of money and marriage:
- Credit card debt is corrosive in marriage, whereas shared financial assets sweeten the ties that bind couples together. Research indicates that couples with no assets were about 70 percent more likely to divorce over a three-year period compared to couples with assets of $10,000. High levels of credit card debt play havoc in the lives of newly married couples, as debt is associated with less time spent together, more fighting, and significantly lower levels of marital happiness among these couples.
- One contributor's research indicates that husbands are significantly less happy in their marriages, and more likely to contemplate divorce, when their wives take the lead in breadwinning. On average, men do not have difficulties with working wives, so long as their wives work about the same amount of time or less than they do. But, according to his analysis of the 2000 Survey of Marriage and Family Life, husbands do not like it when they are clearly displaced as the primary breadwinner in their families. For instance, husbands in families with children at home are 61 percent less likely to report that they are “very happy” in their marriages when their wives work more hours than they do.
- Newlywed couples who take on substantial consumer debt become less happy in their marriages over time. By contrast, newlywed couples who paid off any consumer debt they brought into their marriage or acquired early in their marriage had lower declines in their marital quality over time.
- Because women are now expected to have established themselves socioeconomically prior to marriage, women’s earnings have become a major predictor of marriage. Those with greater economic resources are now significantly more likely to marry.This is a paradox of modern marriage: Although overall increases in female earning capacity have weakened marriage at the societal level, the rise of the companionate model of marriage has meant that female earnings promote marriage at the individual level.
- There is good news and bad news on the marriage front. For the college-educated segment of our population, the institution of marriage appears to have gained strength in recent years. For everyone else, however, marriage continues to weaken. Thus there is a growing “marriage gap” in America, between those who are well educated and those who are not. Recent data indicates that, for the college educated, the institution of marriage may actually have strengthened. It once was the case that college-educated women married at a lower rate than their less educated peers. Indeed, marriage rates for college-educated women were lower well into the late twentieth century. Since around 1980, however, this situation has reversed. College-educated women are now marrying at a higher rate than their peers. Not only that, but the divorce rate among these women is relatively low and has been dropping.
- Teenagers, high-school drop outs, and the non-religious who marry have considerably higher divorce rates. If you are a reasonably well-educated person with a decent income, come from an intact family and are religious, and marry after age twenty five without having a baby first, your chances of divorce are very low indeed.
- Probably because of marital social norms that encourage healthy, productive behavior, men tend to become more economically productive after marriage; they earn between 10 and 40 percent more than do single men with similar education and job histories.
- When thinking of the many benefits of marriage, the economic aspects are often overlooked. Yet the economic benefits of marriage are substantial, both for individuals and for society as a whole. Marriage is a wealth-generating institution. Married couples create more economic assets on average than do otherwise similar singles or cohabiting couples.
- Marriages that end in divorce also are very costly to the public. One researcher determined that a single divorce costs state and federal governments about $30,000, based on such things as the higher use of food stamps and public housing as well as increased bankruptcies and juvenile delinquency. The nation’s 1.4 million divorces in 2002 are estimated to have cost the taxpayers more than $30 billion.
- Research has shown consistently that both divorce and unmarried childbearing increase child poverty. In recent years the majority of children who grow up outside of married families have experienced at least one year of dire poverty. According to one study, if family structure had not changed between 1960 and 1998, the Black child poverty rate in 1998 would have been 28.4 percent rather than 45.6 percent, and the White child poverty rate would have been 11.4 percent rather than 15.4 percent.
- Children who grow up with cohabiting couples tend to have worse life outcomes compared to those growing up with married couples. Prominent reasons are that cohabiting couples have a much higher breakup rate than married couples, a lower level of household income, and a higher level of child abuse and domestic violence.