An “Are we Europe?” update: Fewer people working full-time and births outside of marriage threaten long-term prosperity

by Ryan Streeter on March 26, 2012. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Two important reads related to my “aspiration nation” thesis (see also here) that family formation and employment-to-population ratios (that clunky labor economist expression) matter a great deal more to America’s future vitality than we usually admit in polite conversation.

1. ┬áThe CDC released a report last week – virtually unnoticed in popular media – showing just how pronounced unmarried childbearing trends in America really are. At Economix Sabrina Taverinse noticed it, though. While her main headline is that, contra the marriage declinists, people still get married albeit at older ages, the main point of the report is what she focuses on at the end: the very Charles Murray-esque conclusion that more highly educated women have children in marriage, while their less-educated peers do not. Tavernise writes:

Just 8 percent of births to women over 18 with a college degree happen outside wedlock, compared to 57 percent of births to women with high school diplomas or less, according to Child Trends, which cited 2009 data.

Thanks to Murray, more people are aware of this reality. The CDC report contains another lesser-known fact, though, which is equally as important:

Women who had no births when they married for the first time had a higher probability of their marriage surviving 20 years (56%) compared with women who had one or more births at the time of first marriage (33%).

Having a child before you’re married means you’re more likely to get divorced, which in turn – as we know from tons of other research – has pronounced negative effects on children. How we marry and bring children into the world is the biggest socioeconomic issue of our day that elites prefer not to talk about.

2. ┬áThe WSJ has an excellent article today on how our employment-to-population (the percentage of working age people who are actually working) is not improving even as the unemployment rate has improved. The article notes what I’ve highlighted multiple times, namely that the ratio was worsening before the recession – which obviously means that we can’t blame the downturn for it, though the recession has clearly not helped things.

The reason this is so problematic is that all evidence points to this disquieting reality: the longer people go without working, the harder it is for them to make up their income and skills losses in the future. A low employment-to-population ratio today means less productivity and fewer earnings tomorrow.

Tyler Cowen keys off the WSJ article with some related and supporting research here.