11 March 2020

Marriage Trends Still Driven By Economics

A March 9, 20202 article in the Wall Street Journal by Janet Adamy and Paul Overberg, entitled "Marriage Is Becoming More Like A Luxury Good in U.S." confirms my long standing observations about marriage patterns in the U.S. and globally being closely associated by economic factors. (An opinion piece in the conservative Washington Examiner comments on this story. It's lede: "In 1960, nearly 70% of adults were married. Today, only half are. In 1978, 59% of 18 to 34-year-olds were married. Today, just 29% are.")

Non-college educated men have seen their incomes stagnate and their employment become uncertain, while non-college educated women have seen more progressive than college educated women in recent years. The stagnation for men is a product, of offshoring and automation in the manufacturing sector, at least in part. College educated couples get married and stay married and have kids in wedlock. Non-college educated coupled don't get married, are more prone to divorce if they do get married, and have kids out of wedlock. Fringe benefits at jobs, which fewer and fewer jobs have, encourage marriage. Income assistance linked to income and family size discourage marriage.

The higher your income, the more likely you are to be married. But, adults with incomes under $25,000 have the same likelihood of married at the same rate since 2005 (the lowest percentage, i.e. under 50%, seeing a drop only from 1980 to 2005). Adults with incomes in the $25,000 to $125,000 range have seen a big drop in likelihood of being married since 1980 (now 50%, was 66%). Adults with incomes in excess of $125,000 have seen a small drop in likelihood of being married (now 60%, was 64%). Likelihood of being married is down 19 percentage points among those with only a high school diploma and 8 percentage points for those with college degrees from 1980 to 2018. Overall the percentage of adults 18 to 44 who have ever married fell from 60% in 2002 to 50% in 2017, while the percentage who had ever cohabited rose from about 54% to 59% in that time period. 

Married couples have much more net worth (median $26,714) than single people (median $6,356) and people who live with partners (median $5,892), something that has remained fairly stable since 1989 with shifts driving by the business cycle rather than long term trends.

The divorce rate, which peaked in 1979, is at a 40 year low, but mostly because fewer people are married in the first place.

One interesting observation is that cohabiting causes couples to stay away from churches out of shame over living in sin. 

Another interesting observation was that non-college educated men are giving up on trying to get married and devoting less effort to income earning since they don't need to support a wife and kids as a result.

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