The Limits of Marriage: Why We Can't Solve All Our Problems by Getting Everyone Married

Lee, Gary R.
2015. The Limits of Marriage: Why We Can’t Solve All Our Problems by Getting Everyone Married. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

The marriage rate in America has declined dramatically since the early 1970s, from 76 per 1000 unmarried women per year to 31.  This has been accompanied by an equally dramatic increase in the percentage of children born to unmarried mothers, which now slightly exceeds 40 percent.  Most prior analyses of the causes of these changes have focused on cultural factors, particularly the increasing value of individualism, which in turn is often attributed to increasing prosperity.

This book argues that the primary causes of the “retreat from marriage” are economic and demographic.  The overwhelming majority of those who remain unmarried through their childbearing years are poor and have little education.  These people, particularly men, have been progressively marginalized in the economy since the 1970s, due in part to the labor surplus caused by the aging of the baby boom into the working years.  Marriages to economically marginal men are unlikely to lift women and children out of poverty, are inherently risky because less-educated men are prone to job loss and extended periods of unemployment, and cut off the search for economically attractive spouses.  Cohabitation and single parenthood, rather than being the causes of poverty and associated problems, are survival strategies adopted by the economically disenfranchised.