What’s Happening to Marriage in the Middle Class?

by mike on January 27, 2011

Marriage among middle-class Americans is falling apart.  That is the conclusion in a recent report published by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values.  It is a troubling trend and emphasizes that money does play a role in the strength of your marriage.

The interesting thing is that marriage has always been strong among the rich.  Those who have lots of money have traditionally had lower divorce rates and reported that they are happy in their marriages.  The poor have historically had the highest divorce rates.  A huge majority of Americans (58%) fall into the middle category, however.  This study finds that they are now trending more towards the poor side of the scale in regards to marriage.  This group (defined as those with a high school, but not a four year college degree) in the past had very similar rankings in marriage to the rich side of the scale.  So, what is causing the so called “moderately educated” to divorce at higher rates and have less marital satisfaction?  The researches argue that “…increase in unemployment, and declines in religious attendance are among the trends driving the retreat from marriage” among the middle class.

There is some good news in this report.  College educated Americans are doing a great job with marriage, relatively speaking.  They have become more likely to form stable, high quality marriages, 69% say they are very happy in their marriages, only 11% are likely to divorce or separate in the first 10 years of marriage, and they are dramatically less likely to have children outside of marriage.  The problem is that the opposite of all of those is true for the moderately educated.  For example, 37% are likely to divorce or separate within the first 10 years of marriage.

There is so much in this report that is worthy of discussion, I could go on and on.   There are a few things I wanted to concentrate on, though.  I definitely found it interesting that the researchers concluded that declines in religious attendance has played a role in the decline of marriage.  In fact, the numbers of moderately educated couples attending church on a regular basis went from 40% in the 1970s to 28% in the 2000s!  That is a significant drop.  The idea is that marriage and having a strong family life are often emphasized and taught at churches.  Not only is this normally done outwardly, but reinforced by families being there and attending together.  This is why I get irritated when people talk about having their own relationship with God, therefore, they do not need to go to church.  I have always found that to be an extremely selfish way of looking at religion.  Part of going to church is to be there for others and to form a community.  That community can support each other and help marriages get through the tough times, including tough financial times.

The final thought does have to do with finances.  I often talk about money fights and money problems often being the #1 cited cause of divorce in the United States.  This report just confirms for me the importance of your finances in regards to marriage.  It doesn’t address it specifically, but which group is more likely to have money fights and constantly be stressed out about money?  The low and moderate educated, of course.  This is where I want to challenge you.  If you find yourself always struggling to make ends meet, do something about it now.  If you are not educated, start taking some classes.  If you own your own business, but can never seem to make enough money, then start developing a plan to increase your income over the next three years.  That is the great thing about the United States, you have control over what your life will look like in five years.  Make a plan to improve where you are at financially.  Your marriage depends on it!

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