The study, titled "The Marriage Divide," is the work of sociologists W. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia and Wendy Wang of the Institute for Family Studies, and was jointly published as a "research brief" by several Washington think tanks. Its thrust is summed up in its subtitle: "How and Why Working-Class Families are More Fragile Today."
Note that word "more." The point is that things have been getting worse. Half a century ago, Wilcox and Wang say, there was no significant difference in marriage and family matters between affluent and working-class Americans. The "vast majority" in both groups "got and stayed married, and most children lived in stable, two-parent families."
But since the 1960s, the authors report, the United States has witnessed "an emerging substantial marriage divide by class."
The present situation is reflected in numbers showing that the percentage of now-married adults ages 18-55 is 56% among middle- and upper-class Americans, 39% among the working class, and 26% among the poor. The figures for cohabitation are 5% among the middle and upper classes, 10 % among the working class, and 13% among the poor.
To a great extent, the process that produced these numbers over the last 50 years was spurred by economic factors linked to the changeover from an industrial to a post-industrial economy, which made it harder for many poor and working-class men to find "stable, decent-paying" jobs. As one might expect, the problem was exacerbated by the Great Recession.
But Wilcox and Wang insist that economic factors aren't the whole explanation. On the contrary, what has happened has a lot to do with changes in social attitudes that favor sexual permissiveness, individualism, a decline of family values, and a general fraying of what they call the "civic fabric" including a decline in membership in churches and other community groups. "Americans who regularly attend religious service are more likely to marry, have children in wedlock, avoid divorce, and enjoy higher-quality relationships."