As the marriage success gap widens in America, social analysts from both the right and the left debate what could be the cause. Why is it that the wealthy and educated have successful marriages while the poor and working classess by and large do not? The Right argues that the rise of abortificant ability and laws protecting a mother's choice over childbearing have marked the decline, while those on the Left generally argue that the lowered standard of living among the poor has hurt marriage.
Rachel Sheffield, writing for Public Discourse, examines the theories of leftist Andrew Cherlin, and points out why the loss of American manufacturing jobs is not the ultimate cause of marriage's decline:
[R]esearchers have directly examined the thesis that reduced manufacturing employment reduces marriage rates. Sociologists at New York University recently studied how increased importing from China in the 2000s affected marriage in communities that produced competing products. The new competition had negative economic effects—but this did not impact marriage rates. This research is preliminary but casts serious doubt on the primacy of economic factors in the decline in marriage rates. If centuries of subsistence-level poverty did not destroy the two-parent family, it is hard to see why a late twentieth century slowdown in the rate of compensation growth would.
On the other hand, Cherlin is correct that working class men are indeed less likely to be employed today than in the past. Part of the reason appears to be directly connected to the decline in marriage rates—but as an effect, not a cause. In other words, because marriage rates are down, men are less likely to engage in the labor force.
In a 2014 report published by the American Enterprise Institute, researchers Brad Wilcox of the University of Virginia and Robert Lerman of American University report that over half (51 percent) of the decrease in male employment between 1980 and 2008 (and 37 percent of the decline between 1980 and 2013) is connected to the decline in marriage. The authors note:
When young men and women replace formal commitment with informal relationships or none at all, work becomes less urgent, especially for men, who have historically taken all kinds of jobs to support their families. With no wife or children to support, men become less focused on the job market.
Wilcox and Lerman’s research shows that the greatest decline in male employment since 1979 has been among unmarried men. This trend holds true across all levels of education. The authors also point out that median family income would be 44 percent higher today if the United States had the same rate of married-parent families as in 1979.
The true cause of marriage's decline lies in the spread of "casual sex." Sheffield explains:
The spread of birth control and the legalization of abortion attempted to disconnect sex from childbearing. It ended up disconnecting childbearing from marriage, weakening men’s responsibility as fathers. As Brookings Institution scholars George Akerlof and Janet L. Yellen put it, “By making the birth of the child the physical choice of the mother, the sexual revolution has made marriage and child support a social choice of the father.”
Marriage binds a man and a woman together for life so that they can make children to love and raise. Without the openness to children, marriage loses its meaning and, as we have seen, falls by the wayside.