Mind the Gap

colson2In an oft-quoted, albeit apocryphal, exchange between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, Fitzgerald says that “the rich are very different from you and me,” to which Hemingway replies, “Yes, they have more money.” Well, there is one way in which well-off Americans are increasingly different from other Americans: family structure. Today, married couples with children are less than one-quarter of all households; that’s down from one-half in 1960. But this decline is not spread evenly among socio-economic classes. As a recent Washington Post article noted, the decline has been “far less among couples who make the most money and have the best education.” What’s more, “these couples are also less likely to divorce.” As a result, their children have a tremendous “leg up” in the competition for higher incomes and the status it brings. In contrast, “the poor aren’t entering into marriage very much at all,” according to Pamela Smock, a sociologist at the University of Michigan. She told the Post that arguments about the economic benefits of marriage “do not seem to change their attitudes.” So, while the well-off are getting better-off thanks to marriage and family formation, those at the bottom are falling further behind for the opposite reason. Given the well-documented economic and personal benefits, both to adults and children, of getting and staying married, why aren’t those most in need of those benefits getting married? Placing the blame, as the Post does, on “the erosion . . . of the broad-based economic prosperity that followed World War II” is off target. Economic distress alone cannot explain why the poor are less likely to marry these days. After all, poor people throughout history have gotten married just like everyone else. One reason has to be cultural. The 1960s assault on traditional authority and values has resulted in what political scientist James Q. Wilson calls the “subversion for the popular support of marriage.” Unfortunately, as my colleague Anne Morse writes at our BreakPoint website, the Washington Postarticle does not explore the influence of “wealthy Hollywood moms who make out-of-wedlock child-bearing look chic and glamorous.” Poor, young women emulate celebrities. Nor does the article “mention the destructive impact of Great Society policies that essentially promised young women regular government checks” so long as they “have a baby out of wedlock and avoid marriage ever after.” In the end, the Post does not give a satisfactory answer as to why the poor are marrying less often than the wealthy. But the article does set off alarm bells for the future of American society—and for the future of the poor. As Anne Morse writes on our website, married couples are highly motivated to work hard and pool their savings for the future. Why? Because they believe they’ll have a future together. This is a big part of why married people have more money than those who do not marry. If the poor truly believe that they cannot afford marriage—or don’t need it—we, the Christian Church, have to find way to help them understand that, for many reasons, including the well-being of their children, they cannot afford not to marry. For their future and for ours.  
Today's BreakPoint Offer
Marriage in America: BreakPoint Goes to the Heart of the Marriage Debate” (CD).  
For Further Reading and Information
Anne Morse, “Worth Wedding For,” BreakPoint Online, 9 March 2007. Anne Morse, “Barbarians ‘R’ Us?” The Point, 14 March 2007. Blaine Harden, “Numbers Drop for the Married with Children,” Washington Post, 4 March 2007, A03. Harold Meyerson, “‘Family Values’ Chutzpah,” Washington Post, 7 March 2007, A17. Daniel Pulliam, “What Would Dobson Say?” Get Religion, 8 March 2007. BreakPoint Commentary No. 060130, “Marriage and Faith: They Really Do Go Together.” “Intimate Allies” (CD): We must be living witnesses to the beauty and the glory of marriage as God intendeded it. And good marriages are built on a Christian worldview. Dr. Dan Allender, professor of counseling and president of Mars Hill Graduate School in Bothell, Washington, discusses topics from his book, Intimate Allies, coauthored with Dr. Tremper Longman. Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage (Doubleday, 2000).


Chuck Colson


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