The Marriage Issue

The Marriage Issue March 27, 2013

David Frum may well have it nailed:

The marriage issue, Frum is arguing, needs to be fought at the level of getting people married and getting people to stay married. So should the Christian leadership focus on marriage and love and fidelity?

Washington (CNN) — The Supreme Court will hear arguments this week in two same-sex marriage cases. Whatever the justices do, the outcome seems foreordained. When 80% of Americans under 30 agree about something, that something will happen — it’s only a matter of time.

But while straight young Americans support marriage for gays, increasingly they opt against marriage for themselves. Nearly half of American children, 48%, are now born to unmarried women. Among women without college degrees, and of all races, unwed motherhood has become the norm.

This is the crisis of the American family. Whether same-sex marriage proceeds fast or slow, whether it extends to all 50 states or stops with the current nine plus the District of Columbia, the crisis will be the same….

One reason we’ve given the single-parenthood problem short shrift is that we lack good ideas about how to address it. The core of the problem seems to be the decline of male wages relative to female wages. The New York Times this week quoted an MIT economist, Michael Greenstone:

“I think the greatest, most astonishing fact that I am aware of in social science right now is that women have been able to hear the labor market screaming out ‘You need more education’ and have been able to respond to that, and men have not. And it’s very, very scary for economists because people should be responding to price signals. And men are not. It’s a fact in need of an explanation.”

As men (on average) finish less education, as male wages (on average) decline, men become less attractive as marital partners. As Harvard’s Christopher Jencks — a left-leaning academic, it should be stressed — said in that same New York Times piece: “Single-parent families tend to emerge in places where the men already are a mess.”…

It’s the family life of the bottom two-thirds that is the family policy challenge of the 21st century. The debate over same-sex marriage is yesteryear’s issue. It’s settled, whether the Supreme Court knows it or not. But how to ensure that the next generation of American children enjoys the more equal chance and the wider opportunities from a more universal commitment to marriage — that debate needs to begin.

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