The decline of marriage
For richer, for smarter
The traditional family is now the preserve of a minority
Jun 23rd 2011 | SEATTLE | from The Economist print edition
MARRIAGE, and its many ups and downs, still exercises a powerful hold over newspapers, magazines and the airwaves. Nearly 23m Americans watched Prince William being joined in holy matrimony to Kate Middleton. Millions more have wallowed in the break-up of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s marriage after revelations that he fathered a son with a maid. And the tumescent tweets of congressman Anthony Weiner have stirred up endless speculation about the health of his own year-old marriage and the forbearance of his newly pregnant wife.
婚姻、婚姻里的悲欢离合仍然强有力地占据着报纸、杂志的版面和广播电视的节目。近2300万美国人收看了威廉王子迎娶凯特•米德尔顿(Kate Middleton)的神圣婚礼。更有数百万人因阿诺德•施瓦辛格与女管家育有一个私生子被曝光而离婚一事感慨不已。而国会议员安东尼 温纳(Anthony Weiner)在微博上上传自己勃起内裤照片后激起无数人猜测他刚刚才一年的婚姻是否良好、他最近怀孕的妻子是否容忍他的行为。
Less titillating are revelations about the sorry state of marriage across the United States. Data from the Census Bureau show that married couples, for the first time, now make up less than half (45%) of all households.
The iconic American family, with mom, dad and kids under one roof, is fading. In every state the numbers of unmarried couples, childless households and single-person households are growing faster than those comprised of married people with children, finds the 2010 census. The latter accounted for 43% of households in 1950; they now account for just 20%. And the trend has a potent class dimension. Traditional marriage has evolved from a near-universal rite to a luxury for the educated and affluent.
There barely was a marriage gap in 1960: only four percentage points separated the wedded ways of college and high-school graduates (76% versus 72%). The gap has since widened to 16 percentage points, according to the Pew Research Centre. A Census Bureau analysis released this spring found that brides are significantly more likely to have a college degree than they were in the mid-1990s.
1960年结婚率几乎没有差别：大学毕业和高中毕业生的结婚率只相差4个百分点（分别为76%和72%）。佩尤研究中心（Pew Research Center）称这个差别已经到16%。今年春天，人口调查局发表的分析称新娘拥有一个大学学位的可能性比九十年代中期时大了很多。
“Marriage has become much more selective, and that’s why the divorce rate has come down,” said Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. The project found that divorce rates for couples with college degrees are only a third as high as for those with a high-school degree.
位于夏洛茨维尔（Charlottesville）的弗吉尼亚大学的国家婚姻研究项目主任W. 布拉德福德•维尔科斯（W. Bradford Wilcox）称：“选择结婚对象时更加地精挑细选，这就是为什么离婚率降低了”。该研究项目发现双方都拥有大学学位的夫妇的离婚率是那些只有一方有高中学位夫妇的三分之一。
Americans with a high-school degree or less (who account for 58% of the population) tell researchers they would like to marry, but do not believe they can afford it. Instead, they raise children out of wedlock. Only 6% of children born to college-educated mothers were born outside marriage, according to the National Marriage Project. That compares with 44% of babies born to mothers whose education ended with high school.
“Less marriage means less income and more poverty,” reckons Isabel Sawhill, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. She and other researchers have linked as much as half of the income inequality in America to changes in family composition: single-parent families (mostly those with a high-school degree or less) are getting poorer while married couples (with educations and dual incomes) are increasingly well-off. “This is a striking gap that is not well understood by the public,” she says.
“婚姻减少意味着收入减少、贫困增加”， 布鲁金斯学会（Brookings Institution）的资深研究员伊莎贝尔▪索希尔（Isabel Sawhill）这样认为。她和其他研究者把美国收入不均的一半因素与家庭构成的变化联系在一起：单亲家庭（他们中的大多数只有高中或以下学历）越来越贫困而已婚夫妇（双方均受过高等教育且都有收入）越来越富有。她说：“这个差别非常明显但是却不为大众很好地理解”。
Do not expect the Democratic Party, however, to make an issue of the marriage gap in next year’s elections. Unmarried women voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama. “You don’t want to suggest to someone who isn’t married and has children that they should be married,” says Ms Sawhill. “That is a denigration of their lifestyle.”