Changing Patterns Amongst Married People

Recent Numbers and Marriage

The recent economic downturn has increased the number of opposite sex couples who cohabitate, but refrain from marriage.  Marriage rates are at an all-time low while birth rates have remained relatively stable—so more children are being born out of wedlock.  Thirty years ago, regardless of the economy, these authors predicted that since more women are on the marriage market than men, there would be startling consequences including a reduction in marriage rates.  Some theorize that just like houses on the market, there is a “glut” of cohabitants waiting to marry when the economy turns around, but of the couples actually marrying—what patterns are emerging amongst married couples?

Geographic and Political Differences Between Married Couples

Are there very real difference between these married couples?  Understanding geographical and political differences may be helpful.  The following is an excerpt from a recent book published by Oxford University Press: Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture by Naomi Cahn and June Carbone, taken from the publisher’s website:

“Blue Family Paradigm emphasizes the importance of women’s as well as men’s workforce participation, egalitarian gender roles, and the delay of family formation until both parents are emotionally and financially ready. By contrast, the Red Family Paradigm–associated with the Bible Belt, the mountain west, and rural America–rejects these new family norms, viewing the change in moral and sexual values as a crisis. In this world, the prospect of teen childbirth is the necessary deterrent to premarital sex, marriage is a sacred undertaking between a man and a woman, and divorce is society’s greatest moral challenge.”

This seems like a fair evaluation of the political and geographical gap and affirms that in States such as California, the formation of family seems to be delayed until parents are financially prepared, resulting in the delay of marriage during a recession such as the one we are currently experiencing.  Yet, birth rates remain stable.  So, the “formation of family” in this context seems to be equivalent to marriage—not parenthood.

Education Levels and Support

A 2005 study on trends in marriage, conducted through UCLA and republished by Stanford online shows that from 1960-2003, marital educational homogamy (sameness) increased.  Specifically, those with a college education were much more likely to find a spouse with a college degree.  This trend has increased over time and the odds of a person without a degree “marrying-up” and joining someone else with a degree have fallen to very low levels (Gold-Diggers be damned).  This same-ness in education level between spouses may have a collateral effect.  Since spousal support (alimony) attempts to maintain the marital lifestyle and stabilize economic disparities between spouses, if spouses have the same education level they should have more similar incomes and by extension—spousal support should be less common and of a lesser amount when it does occur.  Unfortunately I was unable to find any study in America on the incidence of spousal support.  (I did find this interesting article on spousal support incidence in Australia and they seem to abhor the concept of alimony).


So, where do we go from here?  Increasingly, people seem to be pursuing partners that are more similar to themselves.  We are marrying less, having just as many children, and the ratio of women to men looking to marry seems to be out-of-whack.  To make things more chaotic, divorce rates are slightly down nationwide according to the Census Burea, but divorce rates in California seem to be stable around 60%, or is it 75%, (but I honestly think no one knows an exact number).  It seems when the economy turns around, if it ever does, some of this chaos will fix itself.  More cohabitants will marry, marital discontent may be reduced, the rate of children born out of wedlock will be reduced, and political and geographic differences amongst married couples may also diminish.  So, money doesn’t fix everything, but it may help… and as journalist Bill Vaughan said, “Money won’t buy happiness, but it will pay the salaries of a large research staff to study the problem.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *