Essay The Future of Marriage in America

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The State of Our Unions
The Social Health of Marriage in America
Essay: The Future of Marriage in America
David Popenoe

© Copyright 2007
In this year’s essay, David Popenoe argues that long-term trends point to the gradual weakening of marriage as the primary social institution of family life. More Americans today are living together, marrying at older ages or not at all, and rearing children in cohabiting or solo parent households. Overall, the U.S. trends are following the far-advanced trends toward nonmarriage in Northwestern European nations, albeit at a slower and more uneven pace.
Popenoe attributes the weakening of marriage to a broad
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Other possible reasons for the decreasing divorce rate are the rise of non-marital cohabitation and a decline in second and subsequent marriages. Divorcees, for example, have become more likely to cohabit rather than remarry, thus avoiding remarriages that have always had a disproportionately high risk of divorce.
The Marriage Gap
One surprising development of recent years is the growth of a marriage and divorce "gap" between differently educated segments of the population. People who have completed college (around a quarter of the population) tend to have significantly higher marriage and lower divorce rates compared to those with less education. Among those married in the early 1990s, for example, only 16.5 percent of college educated women were divorced within ten years, compared to 46 percent for high school dropouts. Indeed, most of the recent divorce rate decline has been among the college educated; for those with less than a high school education, the divorce rate actually has been rising. (1)
The weakening of marriage and the resultant growth of family diversity thus is found much more prominently among those with less education and associated lower incomes. The underlying reason for this may be as simple as the fact that the personality and social characteristics enabling one to complete college are similar to

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