For some time now, scholars like W. Bradford Wilcox at the University of Virginia and Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute have been telling us that marriage is becoming an upper class phenomenon. More accurately, they have been pointing to the fact that lower-income Americans have been progressively abandoning marriage for the last two decades.
Now, along comes Derek Thompson, writing for The Atlantic, making many of the same points. Thompson points to an analysis of census data that reveals the vast economic consequences of this abandonment. Put bluntly, the failure to marry dramatically increases the likelihood of poverty and continued economic retreat.
According to this new data, the average American family with married parents and at least one child under age 18 living in the same home earned $81,000 last year. Interestingly, almost all of the actual growth in this average family’s income in recent years has come from the wife working. Thompson directs our attention to this fact in order to make his larger point: our marriage crisis is making income inequality worse. Those who are getting married and staying married are, on average, moving ahead in the economy. In contrast, those who are not married are falling behind — fast. Add to this the fact that when people marry, they tend to marry someone who shares the same work ethic. The strong get stronger and the weak get weaker.
As Thompson puts it: “In a strange twist, marriage has recently become a capstone for the privileged class. The decline of marriage, to the extent that we’re seeing it, is happening almost exclusively among the poor.”
Unrelated evidence for the importance of marriage comes from The Journal of Clinical Oncology. Researchers have documented the fact that on average married cancer patients live longer than unmarried patients. As Tara Parker-Pope of The New York Times explains, “Married cancer patients live longer than single people who have the disease, suggesting that logistical and emotional support from a loved one may be far more critical to cancer care than previously recognized.”
You will not be surprised to know that unmarried men are at greatest risk. Wives make a huge difference in the health habits of their husbands, right down to making sure that doctor’s appointments are made and medicines are taken. Nevertheless, married women also survive longer than unmarried women with the same disease. Even husbands really help. Single patients are far more vulnerable.
All this is testimony to the power of marriage, and to the fact that marriage is one of the greatest gifts God has given his human creatures.
Interestingly, Derek Thompson ends his article with these words: “This is the marriage crisis behind our inequality crisis. It is not complicated. It requires no regressions. It is the simplest math equation in the world. It says: Two is more than one.”
I think we know where that equation began: “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him’” (Gen 2:18 ESV).
Or, as a modern paraphrase of that text might read: “Two is more than one.”
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Publication date: October 7, 2013