Marriage a privilege of the middle and upper classes?

Poor in America marry less often; among high-income earners, more than one in two tie the knot. Researchers see an economic and cultural gap in the development of marriages.

Actually Marc Biddiscombe (35) has nothing against marrying his longtime partner. On the contrary, he wishes to tie the knot with the mother of his son.

But like many other Americans, he believes he can't afford to say "yes" to marriage. Construction worker's family lives paycheck to paycheck in Seattle. Not in the way he or his partner had imagined.

Luxury of the privileged?

According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 78 percent of unmarried women in the U.S. are looking for a husband with a regular income. There is a direct link between a good income and a high marriage rate, says Kim Parker, director of social trends at PEW. The findings are clear: Stable economic conditions promote commitment for life.

This is where education comes into play. Johns Hopkins University sociologist Andrew Cherlin calls it a class barrier.

Marriage is a luxury of the privileged, it says. This is also shown by studies from the economy. Job cuts between 1990 and 2014 have kept men who faced lower pay or job loss away from the marriage aisle, it says.

As recently as the 1970s, the vast majority of Americans between 18 and 55 were married. Most importantly, there were no differences along the income scale. This has changed since the 1990s. Although the marriage vow was still spoken with similar frequency, it was no longer by all social, or income, classes. Two-thirds of the middle class said yes, but only half of the poor.

In 2015, about a quarter of the lower class was married, but 56 percent of the middle and upper classes still were. Which is not to say that poorer Americans live predominantly as singles. But they more often choose the informal way of living together. High earners and the highly educated do so only about five percent of the time. The reverse is also true. Divorce rates are high, especially among economically unsuccessful and low-skilled Americans. In contrast, high earners regularly report being "happily married" in surveys. The wedding ring is considered a status symbol.

Increase in loneliness in old age

Other factors also play a role in the decline in marriages among poorer people, such as the sexual revolution of the 1960s and growing individualism in society. Add to that the loss of authority of religion and church.

Declining marriages are accompanied by an increase in loneliness in old age. Psychologists warn of serious consequences. Social isolation is more likely to lead to early death than obesity, according to a study from Brigham Young University in Utah, a Mormon high school. The poor are more affected than the wealthy.

Social scientists have advice for the younger generation: aim for the highest possible education first, then secure a job. Afterwards, they could think about marriage and children. Those who approach their lives this way are much less likely to end up in poverty, it says.

Mark Biddiscombe intended to do just that. But his biography took a different course. After high school, he was lured by a financially attractive job offer at the time. College has had to wait. Then new blood registered. The joyous event was followed by a stroke of fate. In young son's heart, pediatricians discovered a hole. Expensive operations were necessary. "We can do it," says Biddiscombe, "but we don't have a safety net". A fate he shares with more and more Americans.

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