NotesFAQContact Us
Search Tips
Peer reviewed Peer reviewed
PDF on ERIC Download full text
ERIC Number: EJ1079377
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2015
Pages: 22
Abstractor: As Provided
ISSN: ISSN-1054-8289
The Evolving Role of Marriage: 1950-2010
Lundberg, Shelly; Pollak, Robert A.
Future of Children, v25 n2 p29-50 Fall 2015
Since 1950, marriage behavior in the United States has changed dramatically. Though most men and women still marry at some point in their lives, they now do so later and are more likely to divorce. Cohabitation has become commonplace as either a precursor or an alternative to marriage, and a growing fraction of births take place outside marriage. We've seen a retreat from marriage within all racial and ethnic groups and across the socioeconomic spectrum. But the decoupling of marriage and parenthood has been much less prevalent among college graduates. Why are college graduates such a prominent exception? Some scholars argue that marriage has declined furthest in low-income communities because men with less education have seen their economic prospects steadily diminish, and because welfare and other social programs have let women rear children on their own. Others contend that poor women have adopted middle-class aspirations for marriage, leading them to establish unrealistic economic prerequisites. The problem with these explanations, write Shelly Lundberg and Robert Pollak, is that they focus on barriers to marriage only in very poor communities. Yet we've seen a retreat from marriage among a much broader swath of the population. Lundberg and Pollak argue that the sources of gains from marriage have changed in such a way that families with high incomes and high levels of education have the greatest incentives to maintain long-term relationships. As women's educational attainment has overtaken that of men, and as the ratio of men's to women's wages has fallen, they write, traditional patterns of gender specialization in household and market work have weakened. The primary source of gains from marriage has shifted from production of household services to investment in children. For couples whose resources allow them to invest intensively in their children, marriage provides a commitment mechanism that supports such investment. For couples who lack the resources to invest intensively in their children, on the other hand, marriage may not be worth the cost of limited independence and potential mismatch.
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and The Brookings Institution. 267 Wallace Hall, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544. Tel: 609-258-6979; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: Higher Education; Postsecondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Grant or Contract Numbers: N/A