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Marriage Declining Among Working-Class Americans

Update Date: Aug 13, 2013 09:09 AM EDT
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Working-class Americans are less likely to get married, stay married and have their children within marriage compared to those with college degrees, according to a new study.

"Working-class people with insecure work and few resources, little stability, and no ability to plan for a foreseeable future become concerned with their own survival and often become unable to imagine being able to provide materially and emotionally for others," lead researcher Sarah Corse, an associate professor of sociology in University of Virginia's College of Arts & Sciences said in a news release. "Insecure work changes peoples' non-work lives."

The latest study involved data of more than 300 working- and middle-class men and women in the United States.  The participants were white, African-American, Asian, and Latino, between the ages of 18 and 70, and with a range of educational histories. 

"Marriage is becoming a distinctive social institution marking middle-class status," Corse said.

Researchers explained that middle-class workers are more likely to seek and find stability in relationships because they are better able to recover from the destabilizing effects of insecure work than the working class.

In contrast, people living in unsecure and unstable environments find it more difficult to trust possible partners because of the risk of betrayal, according to researchers. Working class people may find it more difficult to meet material or financial obligations.  They may also feel that the emotional and psychological commitment required by marriage is too great a demand on top of other challenges.

"Marriage has lost its relevance as a marker of adulthood," co-researcher Jennifer Silva said in a news release.

Researchers said the latest findings are important because wages for the non-college-educated have fallen dramatically in the United States because manufacturing work is increasingly being outsourced to other countries. As a result, this greatly reduces the number of high-paying union jobs with good benefits. Researchers said that more and more jobs available to people without a college degree are service sectors jobs that are short-term and/or part-time and lack benefits.

"These are foundational changes in the labor market for the working class and they broadly affect people's lives," researchers said. "Our interviewees without college degrees expressed feelings of distrust and even fear about intimate relationships, and had difficulty imagining being able to provide for others."

The findings will be presented at the 108th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.

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