The Right Wing’s Marriage Paradox

National Politics

alternatives to marriage projectNew Orleans One of the most interesting social changes whose long shadows go back to the dam burst of social values in the 1960’s is the long lasting disaffection with the institution of marriage.

Not being a marriage booster (why surrender to the “oppression of the Church and State?”), I follow all of these numbers as closely as if they were baseball box scores.  From time to time I like being on a winning side, and despite the whoop-dee-doo on the right, the institution of marriage is fast relegating itself to something akin to polo playing and debutante balls, which is to say a class marker.

There must be some real handwringing in the Right’s Office of Ideological Consistency, currently located somewhere near Dubuque, Iowa I gather:  coffee not served; tea only.  On that wing they have to both be marriage boosters out of one side of their mouths as they argue against the shredded social fiber of American families, and out of the other side of their mouths fiercely oppose gay marriage as an apostasy.  You would think they would sidle up to the gay community as their last friends still standing with much interest in the altar, since just about everyone else has headed for the hills.

All of this came to mind reading a recent effort by the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project trying to ring the bells yet again for couples that went straight to the track.  The Virginians noted that there is a 12-fold increase since 1970 in unmarried couples living with children and in fact according to their culling of the numbers, 42% of all children have lived with unmarried parents by age 12, which outstrips the 24% that have lived with divorced parents.

We unmarrieds are breeders, too.  Births rose by 2/3rds for white women from the 90’s to the mid-2000s, more than 50% for black women, and nearly 50% for Hispanic women, pretty much hitting for the trifecta.  White women married college graduates didn’t hold up their end staying with a flat 2% birth rate over 25 years from 1982, while unmarried white women high school graduates moved to a 34% birthrate over that period after starting at only 5%.

The best the Virginians could argue was essentially it’s “a class thing.”  The director of the Marriage Project tried to take this approach:

“There’s a two-family model emerging in American life.   The educated and affluent enjoy relatively strong, stable families.  Everyone else is more likely to be consigned to unstable, unworkable ones.”

Essentially this is either just a loser’s whine with all of us unmarried somehow “consigned” rather than choosing and despite having seen tens of millions voting with their feet to not being married, director Bradford Wilcox is the last echo of your grandmother wondering if you wouldn’t look “low class” if you weren’t married.  Wilcox actually missed the 60’s entirely.  His class and income-based argument is that “cohabitating” and procreating “swept poor communities beginning the late 1960s…and now has moved into working class and lower-middle-class families.”  And, I guess this is fair warning, this mass movement of social change could be showing up in a house near you any day now.

To get their mojo back, they need to embrace the gay community and find some marriage boosting friends to watch their backs in Virginia, the state for lovers, as the license plates used to say.  Unmarrieds are not the majority, and we’re recruiting successfully every day it seems.

If you’re curious how complete the victory over marriage has been, here are some statistics from

  1. There are 104 million unmarried Americans over age 18, representing over 45% of the adult population. – U.S. Census Bureau. American Community Survey: 2008
  2. Unmarried Americans head more than 51 million households. – U.S. Census Bureau. “America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2007.”
  3. In 2005, unmarried households became the majority of all U.S. households. – U.S. Census Bureau. American Community Survey: 2005.
  4. 46.6% of the unmarried population aged 18 and older are male and 53.4% are female – U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS), 2008.
  5. 23.0% of the unmarried population aged 18 and older are people of color and 77.0% are white. While a clear majority of the unmarried population is white, it is considerably more racially diverse than the married population. – U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS), 2007.
  6. 39.2% of the unmarried population aged 18 and older were formerly married and 60.8% have always been single – U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS), 2008.
  7. 8.9% of the married adult population is aged 18-29 years, compared to 33.7% of the unmarried adult population, while 3.2% of the married adult population is aged 80 years or over, compared to 6.5% of the unmarried adult population. – U.S. Census Bureau. American Community Survey: 2005.
  8. 49.9% of the married population are women, compared to 56.4% of unmarried population. – U.S. Census Bureau. American Community Survey: 2005.