According to the NYTimes, so some people say:
… Among mothers of all ages, a majority — 59 percent in 2009 — are married when they have children. But the surge of births outside marriage among younger women — nearly two-thirds of children in the United States are born to mothers under 30 — is both a symbol of the transforming family and a hint of coming generational change.
One group still largely resists the trend: college graduates, who overwhelmingly marry before having children. That is turning family structure into a new class divide, with the economic and social rewards of marriage increasingly reserved for people with the most education.
“Marriage has become a luxury good,” said Frank Furstenberg, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania…
Marriage has always been at least as much an economic transaction as a social contract. But I think the current situation is another aspect of the current confusion between resources and rewards. Even a generation ago, marriage was a minimum requirement for adulthood — if you “had” to get married, whether to signify your love or as a result of social pressure, filling out an application and taking a long lunch hour at city hall was considered an adequate gateway to all the legal resources of the married state. But the current vogue for “My Big Fat Bridezilla Celebrity Party of A Lifetime” extravaganzas costing more than the down payment on a house seems to be an indicator that marriage is now a very pricy reward:
… Over the past generation, Lorain lost most of two steel mills, a shipyard and a Ford factory, diminishing the supply of jobs that let blue-collar workers raise middle-class families. More women went to work, making marriage less of a financial necessity for them. Living together became routine, and single motherhood lost the stigma that once sent couples rushing to the altar. Women here often describe marriage as a sign of having arrived rather than a way to get there.
Meanwhile, children happen.
Amber Strader, 27, was in an on-and-off relationship with a clerk at Sears a few years ago when she found herself pregnant. A former nursing student who now tends bar, Ms. Strader said her boyfriend was so dependent that she had to buy his cigarettes. Marrying him never entered her mind. “It was like living with another kid,” she said.
When a second child, with a new boyfriend, followed three years later — her birth control failed, she said — her boyfriend, a part-time house painter, was reluctant to wed.
Ms. Strader likes the idea of marriage; she keeps her parents’ wedding photo on her kitchen wall and says her boyfriend is a good father. But for now marriage is beyond her reach…
But, hey — if you’re a member of the elite, part of the economic One Percenters or even the Ten Percenters, a proper marriage is not only an enforceable contract between two people with excellent financial prospects, it’s an excuse to collect tribute from everyone within either party’s family, social, or business circles. When William Kristol’s daughter marries the author of “The Persecution of Sarah Palin” or Megan McArdle marries an associate editor at Reason, the networking opportunities multiply along with the wedding presents — although claiming they needed a new house just to hold the bounty (“Even before we’d sent out the invitations, casseroles and platters were pouring through the breach in our defensive lines and setting up forward positions on the book shelf that divided the dining area from the living room. By the time of our wedding, the entire downstairs had been overrun”) is presumably a McMegan-level exaggeration.
I wonder how much this has to do with the current Republican agitation against marriage equality for same-sex couples? To someone who’s used to treating all human interaction as economic exchanges, there’s a political utility to claiming that gay marriage is just another example of The Other Side “flaunting” its unfair advantage. If you want to inflame your “base”, the call for marriage equality is not about two people wanting to legally pool their resources — it’s a liberal conspiracy to reward the undeserving with a precious luxury now beyond the reach of the average Heartlander… much like health insurance, a guaranteed retirement, or a living wage.