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The Marriage Divide — A Blockbuster Analysis

Kay S Hymowitz offers a blockbuster analysis of a reality ignored or denied by the mainstream media — the marriage gap. In “Marriage and Caste,” published at City Journal, Hymowitz documents the greatest demographic factor separating Americans today — and throwing millions into poverty.

Just look at these two paragraphs:

Tune out the static from teen pregnancy, race, and Murphy Brown, then, and the big news comes into focus: starting in 1980, Americans began to experience a widening Marriage Gap that has reached dangerous proportions. As of 2000, only about 10 percent of mothers with 16 or more years of education–that is, with a college degree or higher–were living without husbands. Compare that with 36 percent of mothers who have between nine and 14 years of education. All the statistics about marriage so often rehashed in magazine and newspaper articles hide a startling truth. Yes, 33 percent of children are born to single mothers; in 2004, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, that amounted to 1.5 million children, the highest number ever. But the vast majority of those children are going home from the maternity wards to low-rent apartments. Yes, experts predict that about 40 to 50 percent of marriages will break up. But most of those divorces will involve women who have always shopped at Wal-Mart. “[T]he rise in single-parent families is concentrated among blacks and among the less educated,” summarize Ellwood and Jencks. “It hardly occurred at all among women with a college degree.”

When Americans began their family revolution four decades ago, they didn’t tend to talk very much about its effect on children. That oversight now haunts the country, as it becomes increasingly clear that the Marriage Gap results in a yawning social divide. If you want to discuss why childhood poverty numbers have remained stubbornly high through the years that the nation was aggressively trying to lower them, begin with the Marriage Gap. Thirty-six percent of female-headed families are below the poverty line. Compare that with the 6 percent of married-couple families in poverty–a good portion of whom are recent, low-skilled immigrants, whose poverty, if history is any guide, is temporary. The same goes if you want to analyze the inequality problem–start with the Marriage Gap. Virtually all–92 percent–of children whose families make over $75,000 are living with both parents. On the other end of the income scale, the situation is reversed: only about 20 percent of kids in families earning under $15,000 live with both parents.

Now, doesn’t that fly in the face of the conventional wisdom about marriage, family structure, race, and poverty? More on this later, but read it now.