Labor Unions and Marital Unions

I have long suspected that the decline of stable, living-wage, blue-collar jobs has something to do with falling marriage rates, a decline especially pronounced among men and women without college degrees. So have many policy wonks and sociologists. In the mid-twentieth century, high-value manufacturing jobs and widespread union contracts enabled a man with a high school degree, and willing to work, to readily find a job with family-supporting wages and benefits. The same man today, if working, is likely to draw lower wages and enjoy little job security. A woman may understandably see this man as a potential burden rather than a promising life partner.

An interesting recent study provides evidence supporting this notion. Sociologists Adam Reich and Daniel Schneider examined data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth – which tracked a sample of young people from 1979 through to 2004 – to identify any relationship between union membership and marriage. For women, they found none, but the men who worked under a union contract were significantly more likely to marry during the period under study. Since a union contract is the difference between a poverty wage and a living wage for hotel workers, custodians, construction laborers, and many others today, that sounds very plausible.


There has been a lot of speculation in recent years about how legalizing gay marriage may affect heterosexual marriage, but not a lot of data. In contrast, researchers from all sides of the political spectrum (from Charles Murray to Adam Reich) have commented on the clear correlation between family-supporting jobs and stable families. Those who insist that these men are not “worth” a living wage because they do not contribute that much value to the economy may be correct -- if optimum efficiency is our primary social concern. But if the new normal is an economy employing large numbers of men at poverty wages, we are putting a dreadful burden on the institution of marriage in the interest of economic efficiency.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Chuck Kotlarz
3 years 10 months ago
The divorce rate in deep red states runs 25% higher than in deep blue states. Life expectancy is two years shorter in deep red state than deep blue states. Deep red state incarceration rates are 50% higher than deep blue states.
Katherine S
3 years 9 months ago
This is probably the most important issue facing the Church. I am glad it is finally being addressed.


The latest from america

U.S. bishops call for a third-party confidential reporting system for claims of any abuse by bishops.
Australia’s Bishop Long Van Nguyen on how the church can heal during the sexual abuse crisis.
Jim McDermottSeptember 19, 2018
If innocence cannot find a home in your heart, love will never conquer the world.
Terrance KleinSeptember 19, 2018