Friday, May 25, 2007

One Source of Income Inequality? The Marriage Gap

There has been a dramatic rise in illegitimacy and divorce during the last forty years (see charts above), and it has been largely limited to less educated men and women. As the divorce rate plummets at the top for the college-educated and rises at the bottom for those with less than a high school degree, there is a widening “marriage gap” in the U.S. that contributes to the observed income inequality over time.

That is the premise of Kay Hymowitz in her book "Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal Families in a Post-Marital Age," which is mentioned in The Economist article "Marriage in America: The Frayed Knot." Excerpt:

There is a widening gulf between how the best- and least-educated Americans approach marriage and child-rearing. Only 4% of the children of mothers with college degrees are born out of wedlock. And the divorce rate among college-educated women has plummeted.

At the bottom of the education scale, the picture is reversed. Among high-school dropouts, the divorce rate rose from 38% for those who first married in 1975-79 to 46% for those who first married in 1990-94. Among those with a high school diploma but no college, it rose from 35% to 38% (see chart above).

And these figures are only part of the story. Many mothers avoid divorce by never marrying in the first place. The out-of-wedlock birth rate among women who drop out of high school is 15%. Among African-Americans, it is a staggering 67%.

Bottom Line: It's not so much that the "rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer," as much as it's "those going to college and staying married are doing increasing well over time, and single-parents without a high school degree are not doing so well over time."


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