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Debating the Future of American Marriage

Stable marriage increasingly linked to socioeconomic privilege

Americans are marrying later in life than they did fifty years ago or not marrying at all, and forty percent of children are now born outside of marriage. These trends have sparked heated debate among scholars and policymakers about the future of marriage in the United States and what role policy should play in influencing the shape of the American family. MPRC faculty associate Philip Cohen says, “Criticism of marriage as a social institution comes from the universal and basically compulsory system of marriage in the 1950s. When people got married who did not want to get married, especially women, and when women’s rights within marriage were much more limited, employment opportunities much less, domestic violence taken much less seriously, when rape wasn’t even a crime within marriage — that system deservedly had a bad rap.”

Cohen notes that the new marriage trends are closely related to class and socioeconomic status. People with more education and higher income levels are more likely to marry than those with lower income and education. “The people who get and stay married — and make it look like married people are better off than people who aren’t married — were better off already,” Cohen said. “Marriage is a privileged position.”

Read the story in the Boston Globe