Since the 1980s, divorce rates have gone down by thirty percent. On the contrary, marriage rates have decreased at an alarming rate. As a consequence, forty percent of children are born with unmarried mothers, while thirty percent of children live with one parent. These statistics draw to the underlying ill that marriage is no longer valued in the American society.
Healthy marriages and stable families fulfill our cultural and natural tendencies. People desire strong and loving relationships. Once people have a strong relationship, they hope to build families. As parents bring children to the earth, they revolve their entire lives around them. They provide the essential needs of food and housing, but they also strive to give their kids the best opportunities in education and skills that prepare them for the working world. However, there comes a cost to uphold these expectations. Our current economy makes it unaffordable to raise kids and dissuades young people to commit to marriage. The costs of child care and education are too expensive, thus discouraging couples to have kids. Nonetheless, marriage tax codes prevent couples from getting married. So why is it important to keep marriage in our society? A stable marriage is dire to our economy. Children from a stable marriage are more likely to join the workforce, rather than children who come from unstable homes. With the increase of single-family homes in our society today, it reflects upon the labor shortage in our present-day workforce.
According to Dr. Brad Wilcox, a University of Virginia Sociology Professor and Scholar at American Enterprise Institute, he claims the decrease in marriages is due to the negative attitude of Americans on marriage and the federal government’s marriage penalties. Wilcox argues that we can change the view of marriage through powerful cultural influence. Specifically, Wilcox references the MTV show “Sixteen and Pregnant” as an example of our media influencing American’s perspectives. Teen pregnancy is at an all time low and Wilcox gives credit to our media industries exposing the hardships that come with teen pregnancy. Wilcox explains that there needs to be media and videos glorifying the ideas of marriage rather than ripping it apart. For example, the recent Netflix production, “Marriage Story” glorified divorce. It received numerous accolades and awards which influences our society to think divorce is normal and “okay.”
Other than our culture influencing broken marriages, Betsey Stevenson, an Economics and Public Policy Professor at University of Michigan raises another perspective of why millennials are less likely to get married. Stevenson argues that many millennials saw broken marriages through their parents who lived in the 1970s and 80s; the time period of the highest divorce rates in the U.S. Ultimately, she implies that millennials do not want to get married because they are afraid of having a failed marriage. Although this stigma is true, Dr. Stevenson points out there has been a spike in sixty and older individuals getting married. Her point proves that individuals still value marriage and that there is hope to bring the value of marriage back into our society.
Fear of marriage is not the only reason keeping millennials away from saying “I do.” Dr. Kay Hymowitz from the Manhattan Institute reports that women prioritize financial and economic stability in a spouse. However, women are having trouble finding financially independent men. In recent years, there has been an increase in low-skilled men and fewer men in the workforce. Despite the decrease of male participation in the workforce, there are more women in the workforce than there has been in prior years. As a result, women have become financially independent and do not want to downgrade by marrying a spouse with lower income.
Although there are many underlying problems that dissuade marriage, there are solutions to revamp the value of marriage back into our society. First, our federal government should enact a national paid family leave policy. It is difficult for both men and women to pause their career to leave for children. If they are given a policy that encourages them to build a family, they will stay in the workforce. More specifically, it will keep men from leaving the workforce.
Second, there should be expansions on policies, such as the Child Tax Credit (CTC). Dr. Brad Wilcox suggests expanding CTC from $2,000 to $3,000 and a policy that caters to all families. An expansion will allow families to not only be able to cover child care costs, it will give the parents more time to spend with their kids. For instance, this will benefit and support the stay-at-home fathers. There are more father care-takers today then there were in the past. CTC will give the opportunity for fathers to spend more quality time with their children, thus creating a positive father-child relationship.
Third, our government needs to invest more into career and technical education. Due to the government’s emphasis on four-year degrees, our society feels the need to complete a college education. However, college is not for everyone, especially if it is not one’s interest or best financial option. Alternatively, the government should be encouraging enrollment in trade school programs and skilled labor jobs. With this encouragement, our society will drift away from college debt and be inclined to fill the skilled labor shortage.
With these government efforts, we could see marriage rates heading up instead of down. People want to get married. People want relationships. It is human nature. However, the influences of cultural individualism and economic burdens are blocking the path for individuals to actualize a strong and healthy marriage.