(Brookings) Bradford Wilcox and Andrew Cherlin: The Marginalization of Marriage in Middle America

This policy brief reviews the deepening marginalization of marriage and the growing instability of family life among moderately-educated Americans: those who hold high school degrees but not four-year college degrees and who constitute 51 percent of the young adult population (aged twenty-five to thirty-four). Written jointly by two family scholars, one of them a conservative (W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project) and the other a liberal (Andrew J. Cherlin, professor at Johns Hopkins University), it is an attempt to find common ground in the often bitter and counterproductive debates about family policy. We come to this brief with somewhat different perspectives. Wilcox would emphasize the primacy of promoting and supporting marriage. Cherlin argued in a recent book, The Marriage-Go-Round, that stable care arrangements for children, whether achieved through marriage or not, are what matter most. But both of us agree that children are more likely to thrive when they reside in stable, two-parent homes. We also agree that in America today cohabitation is still largely a short-term arrangement, while marriage remains the setting in which adults seek to maintain long-term bonds. Thus, we conclude by offering six policy ideas, some economic, some cultural, and some legal, designed to strengthen marriage and family life among moderately-educated Americans. Finally, unless otherwise noted, the findings detailed in this policy brief come from a new report by Wilcox, When Marriage Disappears: The New Middle America.

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