David Frum

03.27.13

The Collapse of Economic Possibilities for Working-Class Men is Harming Marriage

Reihan Salam adds wisdom to the debate over children in marriage.

Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University and author of The Marriage-Go-Round, has referred to “the deinstitutionalization of marriage,” in which marriage has remained a prestigious mark of individual achievement even as adults spend less of their lives in intact marriages. And he has projected, as one of several possible alternatives, a “fading away of marriage” in which marriage continues to lose ground to cohabitation and other less stable arrangements.

When I argued against same-sex marriage in the 1990s, I expressed concern that changing the definition of marriage would deter working-class Americans from entering into marriages. But what we're seeing in reality is something much more peculiar. As Reihan notes, Americans seem to esteem marriage as much as ever. But more and more of them find it impractical in their circumstances. Reihan observes single mothers "many of whom aspire to marry yet find that the supply of reliable men capable of finding remunerative work is severely limited."

As we debate same-sex marriage, it just seems harder and harder - at least from my point of view - to avoid recognizing that it is the collapse of economic possibilities for working-class men that is changing the culture of marriage, not the other way around.