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Men Marrying Late — Or Not At All

The New York Times has been running a most interesting series of articles in recent weeks entitled “The New Gender Divide.” In today’s edition, the paper looks at a new pattern among men without college education — marrying late or not at all.

In “Facing Middle Age With No Degree, and No Wife,” reporters Eduardo Porter and Michelle O’Donnell observe a significant shift in the way many American men now look at marriage and their prospects for a wife:

Once, virtually all Americans had married by their mid-40′s. Now, many American men without college degrees find themselves still single as they approach middle age. About 18 percent of men ages 40 to 44 with less than four years of college have never married, according to census estimates. That is up from about 6 percent a quarter-century ago. Among similar men ages 35 to 39, the portion jumped to 22 percent from 8 percent in that time. At virtually every level of education, fewer Americans are marrying. But the decline is most pronounced among men with less education. Even marriage rates among female professionals over 40 have stabilized in recent years.

Further:

Perhaps most significant, many men without college degrees are not marrying because the pool of women in their social circles — those without college degrees — has shrunk. And the dwindling pool of women in this category often look for a mate with more education and hence better financial prospects.

“Men don’t marry because women like myself don’t need to rely on them,” said Shenia Rudolph, 42, a divorced mother from the Bronx. In 1980, only 6 percent of men in their early 40′s at all levels of education and 5 percent of women in their early 40′s had never married. By 2004, this portion had increased to 16.5 percent of men and about 12.5 percent of women.

Of the men remaining single, the greatest number are high school dropouts, especially blacks and unemployed men. But marriage is also declining among white men and men with jobs who lack college degrees. There is no conclusive evidence that marriage helps men. Still, some social scientists worry that not marrying may further marginalize men who are already struggling.

An analysis like this should have the attention of anyone concerned with ministry and the struggles experienced by many persons in this society — in this case men without higher education. Marriage is not just one life experience or expectation among others. It is one of the most important factors in the social impact of men and in their personal fulfillment and sense of self. Marriage is the greatest single stabilizer in the lives of most men. The massive social and ideological shifts that have transformed American society have real-life impact in the lives of individuals — as this article makes clear. The marginalization of working men is directly connected to the marginalization of marriage in many of their lives.