Acton Institute Powerblog

How the Economy Affects Marriage Rates

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marriageeconomyFor the past three decades, there has been an attempt by the political class to divide conservatism into two main branches: social and economic. The two are often pitted against each other despite the fact that most conservatives in America would identify with both sides. Mainstream conservatives realize what the elite class does not: economic and social factors are inextricably linked together.

Consider, for example, the connection between the economy and marriage. According to a new report by the Pew Research Center, the share of American adults who have never been married is at an historic high. In 2012, one-in-five adults ages 25 and older (about 42 million people) had never been married; in 1960, only about one-in-ten adults (9 percent) in that age range had never been married.

About half of all never-married adults (53 percent) say they would like to marry eventually. Out of that group, three-in-ten say the main reason they are not married is that they have not found someone who has what they are looking for in a spouse. So what’s holding them back? For women, the reason seems to be primarily economic. More than two-thirds (78 percent) of never-married women say finding someone who has a steady job would be very important to them in choosing a spouse or partner.

This makes finding a spouse more difficult since fewer young men have been able to find steady work. According to Pew Research, labor force participation among men—particularly young men—has fallen significantly over the past several decades. In 1960, 93 percent of men ages 25 to 34 were in the labor force; by 2012 that share had fallen to 82 percent And among young men who are employed, wages have fallen over the past few decades. For men ages 25 to 34, median hourly wages have declined 20% since 1980 (after adjusting for inflation).

Pew Research also notes that among never-married adults ages 25 to 34, the number of employed men per 100 women dropped from 139 in 1960 to 91 in 2012, despite the fact that men in this age group outnumber young women in absolute numbers:

In other words, if all never-married young women in 2012 wanted to find a young employed man who had also never been married, 9% of them would fail, simply because there are not enough men in the target group. Five decades ago, never-married young women had a much larger pool of potential spouses from which to choose.

Marriage plays a significant economic role, affecting everything from poverty to student loans repayments to the overall economy. Unless the trend is reversed, the decline in marriage rates could have a long-term negative impact on the economy. It could even create a self-perpetuating downward spiral as the poor economy leads to fewer marriages leading to an even worse economy.

Unfortunately, there is no easy solution for fixing either America’s economy or the nation’s marriage problem. But getting policymakers to recognize the two can’t be separated will help them design — and allow us to champion — more effective policies for our country’s future.

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

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