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Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Marriage Gap and the Income Gap

An earlier post dealt with changing marriage rates. At The Washington Post, Ruth Marcus reports these changes contribute to income inequality:
“Family structure is a new dividing line in American society,” Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution told me.
As marriage increasingly becomes a phenomenon of the better-off and better-educated, the incomes of two-earner married couples diverge more and more from those of struggling single adults. There is a chicken-and-egg conundrum at work here: Did lack of financial stability contribute to the decision not to marry, or did the decision not to marry contribute to financial instability? Either way, the phenomenon is self-reinforcing.
Of even more concern is the generational impact of this increased inequality. Being raised in a stable, two-parent household is a strong determinant of educational achievement. In turn, educational achievement is a strong — and growing stronger — determinant of lifetime income. As a result, the marriage gap becomes a grimly self-perpetuating process.
It’s not only that those at higher education levels are far more likely to marry — they’re far more likely to marry each other. “Men used to marry their secretaries,” Sawhill observed. “Now they marry the woman they met in med school.”
As a result, Sawhill said, “These two-earner couples at the top are just making out like bandits and these single parents at the bottom have miserable lives. If the single parents were married, their life wouldn’t be so miserable. And at the top, if these high-earning professionals weren’t getting together and forming little collaboratives, they’d be worse off.”