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Report: Marriage is crumbling in blue-collar America

A new report suggests that the commitment to marriage among moderately educated blue-collar Americans has dropped precipitously since the 1980s.

By Staff writer / December 7, 2010

A new report by the National Marriage Project finds that divorce and single motherhood are increasing among moderately educated Americans.

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When it comes to marriage, the institution is seeing its fastest erosion in “middle America” – the large bulk of the population with some education but no college degree.

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Blue-collar Americans, once seen as the bulwark of conservative American attitudes toward marriage and pregnancy out of wedlock, now see marital quality, divorce, and childbearing more like the least educated and poorest Americans, leading to a growing “marriage gap” in American society.

Authors of “The State of Our Unions,” the new report that presents the data, attribute much of the shift to the steady decline of blue-collar jobs in the US, which has ratcheted up financial pressure on moderately educated Americans. Others point to changing – and perhaps unrealistic – perceptions of marriage.

But the implications are significant, with research suggesting that strong marriages correlate to better well-being among adults and children.

“It’s striking how much the bottom has fallen out for middle Americans,” says Bradford Wilcox, author of the study and the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, which issued the report along with the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values. “There’s a clear connection between what’s happening here and the middle class’s capacity to realize the American dream.”

Among the study’s more notable findings:

  • The chance that moderately educated Americans will have children outside of marriage has increased dramatically in the past few decades relative to other populations. In the early 1980s, just 2 percent of babies born to highly educated mothers (those with a college degree) were born outside of marriage, compared with 13 percent of those born to moderately educated mothers and 33 percent of those born to mothers who were high school dropouts. By the late 2000s, those numbers have shifted to 6 percent for highly educated mothers, 44 percent for moderately educated mothers, and 54 percent of babies born to the least educated.
  • The cultural foundations of marriage – including religious attendance and faith in marriage as a way of life – now seem to be stronger among the highly educated than the moderately educated.
  • At the same time that divorce rates have fallen for the least-educated and most highly educated Americans, they have risen slightly for the moderately educated.
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