According to a Time/Pew Research Centre study:
…of all the transformations our family structures have undergone in the past 50 years, perhaps the most profound is the marriage differential that has opened between the rich and the poor. In 1960 the median household income of married adults was 12% higher than that of single adults, after adjusting for household size. By 2008 this gap had grown to 41%. In other words, the richer and more educated you are, the more likely you are to marry, or to be married — or, conversely, if you’re married, you’re more likely to be well off.
And the more highly educated are not only more likely to marry, they’re more likely to stay married.
In recent years, the overall rate of divorce has plateaued somewhat, and leaving a spouse is on the decline among college graduates. But that drop is being offset by a rise in splits among those at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum, the people least able to afford to divorce, so the rate is still high. Says Cherlin: “One statistic I saw when writing my book that floored me was that a child living together with unmarried parents in Sweden has a lower chance that his family will disrupt than does a child living with married parents in the U.S.”
It seems that the 21st century marriage, with its emphasis on a match of equals, has brought about a surge in inequality. It’s easier for the college-educated, with their dominance of the knowledge economy, to get married and stay married. The less well off delay marriage because their circumstances feel so tenuous, then often have kids, which makes marrying even harder. “A marriage gap and a socioeconomic gap have been growing side by side for the past half-century,” the Pew study’s authors note, “and each may be feeding off the other.” But because it’s unclear whether the burdens of poverty are making people’s relationships less permanent or people’s impermanent relationships are worsening their poverty, the solution is not obvious.
This has serious implications for children:
41% of babies were born to unmarried moms in 2008, an eightfold increase from 50 years ago, and 25% of kids lived in a single-parent home, almost triple the number from 1960. Contrary to the stereotype, it turns out that most of the infants born to unmarried mothers are not the product of casual sexual encounters. One of the most extensive databases on such kids, the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a joint project of Princeton and Columbia universities, which has been following 5,000 children from birth to age 9, found that more than half of the unmarried parents were living together at the time their child was born and 30% of them were romantically involved (but living apart).
Most of those unwed mothers said their chances of marrying the baby’s father were 50% or greater, but after five years, only 16% of them had done so and only about 20% of the couples were still cohabiting. This didn’t mean that the children didn’t live with a man, however, since about a quarter of their moms were now living with or married to a new partner. That doesn’t always work out as well as it seems to in Modern Family or Phineas & Ferb. Offspring from earlier relationships put pressure on new ones. For the least wealthy children, Mom’s new boyfriend often means their biological father is less likely to visit and less likely to support their mother. Many stepparents are wonderful and committed, but a series of live-in lovers is not at all the same thing. “About 21% of American children will see at least two live-in partners of their mothers by the time they’re 15,” says Cherlin. “And an additional 8% will see three or more.”
Read more here.