Why the working class is skipping marriage

Finance trumps love as worries about job instability and a lack of benefits create a stark divide between income groups.

By Aimee Picchi Aug 15, 2013 1:07PM

Newlywed couple (© Purestock/SuperStock)While the declining marriage rate has been attributed to feminism and men opting out, the phenomenon doesn't cut equally across all classes. 

Working-class Americans are now less likely to get married and stay married than people with college degrees, according to a new study from the University of Virginia and Harvard University. Poorer Americans are also less likely to have children within marriage, according to "Intimate Inequalities: Love and Work in a Post-Industrial Landscape."

The reason? Working-class adults are finding themselves in a world with little job stability, given the decline of U.S. manufacturing and its stable, high-paying union jobs with good benefits. The study is based on interviews with more than 300 middle-class and working-class U.S. men and women.

"These are foundational changes in the labor market for the working class, and they broadly affect people's lives," researchers Sarah Corse and Jennifer Silva say.

Historically, marriage has been an institution based on economics and power rather than love. Given the still-recovering economy, it's clear that money still has a role to play in the decision to say "I do." 

What's interesting about the study is that it delves into the mindset of working-class adults who are opting against marriage, a trend that researchers have noted for several years. 

The class divide when it comes to marriage is quite troublesome, Stephanie Coontz, who teaches history and family studies at Evergreen State College, told PBS in 2011. Coontz noted that job insecurity, lower wages for high school graduates and fewer pensions were leading low-income women to ask: "What are the benefits of this?"

The new study found that people with college degrees tend to earn more and have stable jobs, allowing them to invest time and emotion in their marriages and parenting.

That disparity is backed up by employment and income data. College graduates have an unemployment rate of 3.8%, compared with 7.6% for those with only a high school diploma, according to July data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. College grads will earn $1.42 million over their careers, almost double the earnings of high school grads, Pew Research found.

Members of the working class increasingly compete for service-sector jobs, such as hotel or restaurant work, which often lack benefits and security, the new study added. Much of the job growth during the economic recovery has stemmed from such low-paying positions, leading workers at fast-food restaurants such as McDonald's (MCD) to stage walkouts in search of higher pay.

Silva and Corse added, "Our interviewees without college degrees expressed feelings of distrust and even fear about intimate relationships and had difficulty imagining being able to provide for others."

Follow Aimee Picchi on Twitter at @aimeepicchi.

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Aug 15, 2013 1:55PM
I look at these statistics and what they tell me is for you to get a good college education or at least 2 years at a community college in a technical field.   7.6% and 3.8% is a very big divide.   Where my son works, Chemeteka college in Salem, Oregon, you can take a two year course for an electronics technician.   INTEL will hire you at the end of the course.  Starting wage is $46,000.00.   You can also go to other community colleges to study to be a diesel mechanic or industrial mechanic.      Pay out of school is about 20 bucks per hour.   Do not sit there crying in your beer.  Do something about your situation.
Aug 15, 2013 2:01PM
Having been through three divorces and seeing how much lawyers make is total disgust.  The way these parasites use the system as their piggy bank.  Benefitting from folks misery.  And EVERYONE loses in a divorce.
Aug 15, 2013 4:15PM

I am tired of paying for babies when mom and dad are together and she is on Medicaid.   Charge them both.   Also why can they get cash aid for a child when they are living with the new boyfriend who is working and providing the house or apt.  How about those who get food stamps when they are living with the new flavor of the month.  Done.  Time to make them pay their own way.  I had to pay for my kids, ofcourse I wasn't lying and cheating the system


Aug 15, 2013 2:00PM
It is very simple people.  Why is the working class forgoing marriage?  So that they can get the free government cheese.  That's right working, tax paying guy; they are screwing us. They may live together and have three children with her and the kids on welfare and food stamps but they are not married.  It is all about getting that free government cheese.
Aug 15, 2013 4:50PM
With marriage comes responsibility, something todays youth have no desire for.
Aug 15, 2013 4:37PM
At my job...people who are married and have babies...are given training...and promotions...over those who remain single, without visible partners.  In other words...at my job...folks who are married...are taken more seriously, period.
Aug 15, 2013 4:22PM
Government policy rewards the unmarried, schools give scholarships to unwed mothers and child support is rarely enforced against deadbeat unmarried dads.  The result of this is  a lost generation of children destined to become criminals, drug addicts and welfare recipients because they are raised by single women who are too busy dealing with their own personal issues to help their children and dad if he is even known or in the area is rarely present in the child's life in a meaningful way.
Aug 15, 2013 3:34PM
Aside from some really great reason already stated, I see another great reason not to get married if your a man. You will be on the loosing end of that bargain period. The circumstances matter very little. Many men know this, only a fool wouldn't take this into consideration before saying I do. 

On a more bright note, just celebrated my 14th anniversary to my one and only wife. Though if we ever got divorced, I know I am also going to get screwed royally. 
Aug 15, 2013 5:31PM
I married very young and stayed married for years.  Big mistake.  I would have been much better off never having married.  He took me to the cleaners when I divorced him, but he was always a taker so that was nothing new.  Lately, there have been a lot of 3rd marriages of my friends and I don't get that.  Why keep getting married?  I have been divorced twelve years now and it's been one of the happiest periods of my life.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with being single.
Aug 15, 2013 4:13PM

I dunno, I see a lot of pregnant women at walmart.

Aug 15, 2013 4:12PM
people are learning if u don't get married u can live off the system easier !!!! trust me they will lie stating they not together but they are ..even if they are caught in 90 days they can reapply for benefits !!!
Aug 15, 2013 3:33PM
My nephew is 32, has  a good job and no plans to get married.  He still lives at home.  Its Paradise as far as he is concerned.  LOL!
Aug 15, 2013 3:50PM
So am correct in assuming that if you announce you are getting married, is will be presumed that you are gay?  They seem to be the only ones fighting to be married.
Aug 15, 2013 1:45PM
Since most marriages end up in divorce and the vast majority of the rest, should have divorced, why even bother.
Aug 15, 2013 4:16PM

So they can also skip a divorce!!!!!

Aug 15, 2013 4:38PM
People are not getting married because they want to get free food, free housing and a government  benefit check every month for their litter of brats. In addition to free education, free transportation, and the list goes on and on... And the father is living in the house and working some job off the books and bringing home undeclared (and untaxed) cash. The American working stiff, playing by the rules and paying taxes, is the real loser. Wake up people!! There is a name for an out-of-wedlock children--and, in these cases, it fits for the whole family!
Aug 15, 2013 4:18PM
Five of the seven of my closest relatives have college bachelors degrees, the other two have 2 year degrees. All work and only one has married and she will turn 30 shortly. People must make their own mistakes, usually marriage and children are among the worst.  
Aug 15, 2013 1:56PM

There should be no monetary benefit to marriage other than sharing living expenses under one roof.


When it was announced we were going to invade Iraq, I never saw so many people rush to the altar, even though their wedding was planned for a year or two in the future.  Why the rush?  Because if he came back in a body bag and they weren't married at the time, she wouldn't get a huge government check and continuing benefits.  Marriage shouldn't be used as a life insurance policy whose premiums are paid for by taxpayers.

Aug 15, 2013 3:47PM
Been there done that have been divorced now for 20 years never again. Not worth the time or effort. I know of a lot of people who are miserable and are basically stuck for financial reasons and then there are the others that are pretending they are happy when they aren't.  I have encouraged my grown son to live with someone first to see if it will work out and then marry before kids of course.
Aug 15, 2013 6:00PM
Husband and wife have been replace with baby-mama and baby-daddy.
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