The Other Side of the ‘Money vs. Marriage’ Debate

24 May 2016

What’s to blame for rising inequality in income and family stability is a complex issue that must be addressed from many angles to be fully understood.

The “Money vs. Marriage” debate in NY this April weighed the relative importance of those two factors in driving rising inequality among American families in terms of both income and family stability. Speakers W. Bradford Wilcox and Naomi Cahn agreed on the current state of affairs and agreed that they are interrelated. Yet the two scholars focus their attention on opposite sides of the equation. 

Last month, STI linked to Wilcox’s essential argument, laid out in the Dallas Morning News under the title “How Rising Divorce Rates Caused Wider Income Inequality.” Wilcox argues that it is ‘the retreat from marriage’ that fuels the changing economic landscape of American families – inequalities included. 

This month, STI is pleased to present the scenario considered from another starting point, as laid out by Cahn, who posits that the root factor driving the changes is the economic inequality that is remaking the American family along class lines, specifically in terms of marriage: “In essence, rising inequality in the US is helping to produce different cultures of marriage.”

The recent article “The Marriage Calculus” (co-written with June Carbone, with whom she also wrote the book Marriage Markets: How Inequality is Remaking the American Family) examines the underlying cultural and economic causes behind the disparity in family structure between classes. The article specifically addresses the reasons that women with money and education are more likely to get and stay married than are working-class women. The authors claim that

…broad trends in the US family – flat-lined levels of marital satisfaction, plateauing divorce rates, rising non-marital births – have stymied simple understanding. But that is because they cloak a deeper change, the way rising inequality is pushing US families in different directions.

In some sense, ‘the American family’ no longer exists. Economic status is now more important than shared nationality in shaping family structure and choices. The divorce rate, for example, has only plateaued in the aggregate. It has dropped dramatically for college graduates – back to the levels of the mid-1960s before no-fault divorce – while it has continued to rise for everyone else…

They go on to posit the following question, which is examined in full in their book:

Is it possible that greater inequality has changed the way that men and women match up with each other, placing more men in some marriage markets and more women in others? In theory at least, that would explain marriage norms that change in opposite directions for difference classes.

Read the full article at, and find the book on Amazon.