Over the past four decades, the American family has undergone a radical transformation. Skyrocketing rates of divorce, single parenthood, and couples with children out of wedlock have all worked to undermine an idealized family model that took root in the 1950s and has served as a beacon for traditionalists ever since. But what are the causes of this change? Conservatives blame it on moral decline and women's liberation. Progressives often attribute it to women's greater freedom and changing sexual mores, but they typically paint these trends in a positive light. In Family Classes, Naomi Cahn and June Carbone contend that these views miss the forest for the trees. Armed with authoritative evidence, they show that the changing structure of our economy is the root cause of the transformation, and that working class and poorer families have paid the highest price. Increasing inequality and instability in the labor market over the past three decades has had a disproportionately negative impact on family stability and marriage rates among working-class and lower-income Americans. In particular, the decline of stable blue collar jobs for men has upended the labor market in the lower deciles of the income chart. Conversely, educated middle class Americans now have the highest rates of both marriage and marital stability despite the fact that they are relatively unlikely to espouse 'traditional values.' In fact, their family stability rate appears to be increasing. That is important because the children of stable two-parent families really do have a leg up in life. They draw from truly fascinating sociological data to drive home their point that economic factors weigh heaviest. For instance, when eligible (i.e., desirable and marriageable) men outnumber eligible women, the marriage and marital stability rates are significantly higher than when the reverse situation occurs - the exact situation we have in America today. Among the educated middle classes, eligible men outnumber eligible women in the area that truly matters--high incomes--and people in that strata therefore have far more stable family lives than working class and poorer Americans. In these latter sectors, men have lost economic ground vis-a-vis women, and family lives have become increasingly unstable in the last two decades. Interestingly, religion and moral values are insignificant factors in generating this difference in comparison to class. To make families stronger, then, we need to increase the level of economic stability in the bottom half of the population. The authors close with a series of policy proposals to address the family-related problems that flow from economic instability. A rigorous and enlightening account of why American families have changed so much since the 1960s, Family Classes cuts through the ideological and moralistic rhetoric that drives our current debate., There was a time when the phrase "American family" conjured up a single, specific image: a breadwinner dad, a homemaker mom, and their 2.5 kids living comfortable lives in a middle-class suburb. Today, that image has been shattered, due in part to skyrocketing divorce rates, single parenthood, and increased out-of-wedlock births. But whether it is conservatives bewailing the wages of moral decline and women's liberation, or progressives celebrating the result of women's greater freedom and changing sexual mores, most Americans fail to identify the root factor driving the changes: economic inequality that is remaking the American family along class lines. In Marriage Markets, June Carbone and Naomi Cahn examine how macroeconomic forces are transforming our most intimate and important spheres, and how working class and lower income families have paid the highest price. Just like health, education, and seemingly every other advantage in life, a stable two-parent home has become a luxury that only the well-off can afford. The best educated and most prosperous have the most stable families, while working class families have seen the greatest increase in relationship instability. Why is this so? The book provides the answer: greater economic inequality has profoundly changed marriage markets, the way men and women match up when they search for a life partner. It has produced a larger group of high-income men than women; written off the men at the bottom because of chronic unemployment, incarceration, and substance abuse; and left a larger group of women with a smaller group of comparable men in the middle. The failure to see marriage as a market affected by supply and demand has obscured any meaningful analysis of the way that societal changes influence culture. Only policies that redress the balance between men and women through greater access to education, stable employment, and opportunities for social mobility can produce a culture that encourages commitment and investment in family life. A rigorous and enlightening account of why American families have changed so much in recent decades, Marriage Markets cuts through the ideological and moralistic rhetoric that drives our current debate. It offers critically needed solutions for a problem that will haunt America for generations to come.
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