October 1, 2013
VIRGINIA POSTREL: Fighting Inequality With Marriage.
Marriage is increasingly the big sociological divide in American life. Getting and staying married makes you part of a privileged elite.
As Charles Murray documents in his 2012 book “Coming Apart,” that divide tracks the income divide, with low-income whites much less likely to be married than their high-income counterparts. (I criticized a different aspect of Murray’s book in this column.) The causality is debatable. Maybe poorer people have a harder time getting married. Maybe being married makes it easier to earn more. Maybe some third factor causes both phenomena. But what is clear is that you’re most likely to have a better life if you’re married — even if, it turns out, you get cancer.
Friends are nice, but they are rarely equivalent to a spouse. The level of on-call commitment and intimacy is simply different. Your spouse knows you in a 24/7 way that few if any others do, especially in a society organized around the nuclear family rather than the extended one. (A spouse also multiplies your extended family by two.) As my economist husband likes to put it, being married also creates a “joint utility function.” Your happiness becomes entwined with your spouse’s, giving you strong incentives to make an extra effort.
And yet government policies seem almost intentionally designed to undermine marriage. And to make it less appealing.