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.