Marriage and educational attainment

There was a report on NPR this morning about how marriage in the U.S. is more common among those with a college education and that levels of marriage are decreasing amongst those with only a high school education. In fact, only 6% of college-graduate couples have children out of wedlock, but this number jumps to 44% amongst couples with high school degrees but no college experience. One interviewee explains that this has a lot to do with the financial costs associated with married life:

“For me,” says Andrew, “it feels unsafe heading into a marriage, where two people rely on each other, to go into it unprepared. In my family, my mother never worked, and my dad’s income was always very sufficient to support our family. I’d like to model that in my life.” The trouble is, that’s become a lot harder to do without a college degree. Time was, a man could go from high school to a well-paying, secure factory job. No more.

The report also cites another reason that low-educated, low-income couples are delaying marriage is because of the expense of the wedding ceremony and associated festivities:

But, Cherlin says — and polls confirm — young adults do want to marry. “I want to have that beautiful gown, and all the family, and toasts with champagne,” says Melissa Ethridge of Austin, Texas. …  As for the couple in Maryland, Andrew and Mellissa, they’ve decided a college degree is a must to have the family life they desire. They’ll have to squeeze in classes around work. Andrew hopes to get a promotion with tuition reimbursement. Perhaps then, they say, with degrees in hand, it will be the right time to marry.

To me, this suggests that one way (but not the only way) to encourage marriage in American society is to increase access and affordability to secondary education for those with financial needs (e.g. Pell grants, scholarships, subsidized loans, etc.) as well as increasing access and availability of job-training programs.

It also suggests to me that the current cultural expectation of expensive and elaborate weddings that cost anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 (or more) is doing more harm than good in encouraging marriage in American society.

The full article is available here:

http://www.npr.org/2010/12/06/131675435/unmarried-with-kids-a-shift-in-the-working-class

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