In addition to an “education gap” in marriage, there is also a “faith gap,” says the new State of Our Unions report on marriage.
“Middle America has lost its religious edge,” wrote W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, looking at trends over the past 40 years.
In the 1970s, the moderately educated — blue-collar, working-class Americans with high school diplomas or some college — were more likely to go to church every week than people with college degrees.
That has now reversed: Today 34 percent of college graduates attend weekly religious services, compared with 28 percent of moderately educated Americans, said the report, which was jointly issued by the NMP and Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values.
Many highly educated Americans might have “progressive views on social issues in general,” said Mr. Wilcox, but “when it comes to their own lives, they are increasingly adopting a marriage mindset and acting accordingly.”
The implications for the nation are sobering, said the report.
Most Americans (58 percent) are moderately educated. As they retreat from faith and marriage as a way of life, these families look more like the “fragile” ones led by the least educated, wrote Mr. Wilcox.
If this “downscale” trend continues, “it is likely that we will witness the emergence of a new society,” in which marriage and its socioeconomic successes, happiness and stability will be enjoyed primarily by the “upscale,” i.e., highly educated, he wrote.
The American Dream — living in a stable family, homeownership and upward mobility — will become “beyond the reach of too many Americans,” said Mr. Wilcox, adding that closing the marriage gap was the way to “renew the fortunes” of middle America.
According to the General Social Survey, 30 percent of Americans are college graduates and 12 percent are high school dropouts; the remaining 58 percent are considered high-school educated.
The State of Our Unions report has been published annually since 1997. The 2010 issue includes the latest data on marriage, divorce, co-habitating, “fragile” families, teen attitudes about marriage and family, and childbearing.
This year’s report highlighted several areas in which educational achievement was shown to make a big difference in family life:
• Highly educated Americans are far less likely to have a baby out of wedlock than moderately educated Americans (6 percent versus 44 percent).
• Highly educated Americans are more likely to say they are “very happy” in their marriages, compared with the moderately educated (69 percent v. 57 percent).
• Rates for divorce or separation in the first 10 years of marriage has declined among the highly educated (15 percent to 11 percent), but increased slightly for moderately educated (36 percent up to 37 percent).
• Teens from homes with college-graduate parents were far more likely to say they would be embarrassed by an unwed pregnancy compared with teens from homes with less-educated parents (76 percent versus 61 percent).
• Since the 1970s, teenage girls, age 14, of highly educated mothers were even more likely to be living with both their parents (81 percent, up from 80 percent). But 14-year-old girls whose mothers were moderately educated were far less likely to be living with both their parents (58 percent, down from 74 percent.)