Pew Research Centre graph.The following press release, dated October 7, comes from the National Marriage Project, based at the University of Virginia, which has been following the marriage gap trend for some time:

(Charlottesville, VA)–The nation is witnessing a growing “marriage gap” between college-educated and less-educated adults, according to a report released today by the Pew Research Center. In a reversal of historic marriage trends, less-educated Americans are now less likely to be married than their college-educated fellow citizens.

”The nation’s growing marriage gap leaves poor and working-class Americans doubly disadvantaged,” said Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project. “Given recent increases in economic inequality and family instability among poor and working-class Americans, adults and children in these communities now not only have fewer economic resources but they are also less likely to benefit from the social and economic benefits delivered by marriage. This is troubling, especially because adults and children in college-educated and affluent communities are enjoying marriages and families that are actually getting more stable and secure by the year.”

”Marriage is an integral dimension of the American dream,” added Wilcox. “The fact that the tie between marriage and adults and children in poor and working-class communities is fraying means that they will have difficulty realizing their dreams for educational and economic success–not to mention a happy family life. The growing marriage gap puts the American dream further out of reach for millions of American men, women, and children living in poor and working-class communities.”

Research suggests that children who grow up in intact, married homes are more likely to graduate from high school, to attend college, and to become stably employed as young adults. Boys who grow up in such a household are also significantly less likely to end up in prison, and girls who grow up in an intact, married family are significantly less likely to experience a teenage pregnancy. Men and women who get and stay married typically enjoy higher levels of happiness, wealth, and health, compared to their unmarried or divorced peers.

On December 6, 2010, the National Marriage Project will explore the nation’s marriage gap in more detail with a new report, When Marriage Disappears: The Retreat from Marriage in Middle America. The report will detail the causes and consequences of the nation’s growing marriage gap.

Census figures released recently showed that the number of unmarried couples living together jumped 13 per cent over the past year compared with a 2 per cent rise between 2008 and 2009. Demographers put the “doubling up” spike down to the economic recession and unemployment, particularly among young men.

If these couples continue to cohabit rather than marry, research shows that they increase their chances of staying poor and decrease their potential for happiness.

W. Bradford Wilcox

W. Bradford Wilcox, professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, is a senior fellow of the Institute for Family Studies and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.