The hardest soft issue out there: marriage as a driver of inequality

by Ryan Streeter on July 31, 2012. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Yesterday, I re-read Jason DeParle’s excellent NYT article on marriage and inequality from a couple weeks ago and his accompanying post at Economix, and I can’t get this chart out of my mind:

More married women in the full-time workforce. More educated women staying married. The culture of marriage cratering among the uneducated.

All of these factors have combined to contribute more to inequality than all of the reasons the elites among us like to cite. Yes, the growth of the financial sector has mattered. Yes, returns to college education have mattered. But nothing has mattered quite like the dynamics of marriage.

The uniformity of marriage among the top, upper middle, and lower middle classes a generation ago compared to their dispersion today will perhaps be remembered by historians as the most consequential cultural and demographic shift of our era.

Marriage and the choice to have children in or out of marriage have always been treated as soft issues, matters of personal choice that really don’t affect others. No more. They are driving a huge wedge between the have’s and have not’s and will continue to do so in the coming decades.

  • Joel P.

    Excellent article. Link this to the problem of affluent married couples choosing to have more money, time, and leisure because they have fewer children. Unwed mothers with more children is encouraged by the Obama administration. Soon, the demographics will be controlling elections.