Mona Charen
By the time you read this, Prince William and his bride, Catherine Middleton (who, depending upon the distribution of titles, may henceforth be known officially by the odd formulation "Her Royal Highness Princess William of Wales"), will have exchanged vows. The organ will have boomed the recessional. The royal carriage with its elegantly adorned and perfectly groomed horses will have paraded the happy couple through cheering crowds in a London bedecked with Union Jacks and flowers. And the guests in their finery will have feasted on a sumptuous wedding breakfast.

You needn't be a royal watcher to join whole-heartedly in the rejoicing at a wedding. And we should celebrate -- not because the principals are royalty, but because marriage itself badly needs reinforcing. For the past several decades, we've been conducting an experiment to determine whether marriage really matters all that much to society. The results are in. But the news hasn't yet been taken on board.

People like Kate and William (absent the title) -- college-educated, upper-middle-class strivers -- are not the ones who need reminding about the importance of marriage. Among the upper middle class, marriage continues to be the norm. Among the lower middle class, though, marriage rates have collapsed.

This has created a cultural gulf between classes in America that affects every aspect of life and arguably threatens the cohesion of America itself. This territory has been explored by Kay Hymowitz in her 2006 book, "Marriage and Caste in America," as well as by scholars like Sara McLanahan, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and David Popenoe, among others. Charles Murray's forthcoming book, "Coming Apart at the Seams," which he previewed in a recent lecture at the American Enterprise Institute, examines marriage as one of four key virtues that conduce to a healthy polity (the others are industriousness, piety and honesty).

Echoing George Gilder, Murray notes that marriage is crucial because it "civilizes men." Married men don't just earn more and have significantly lower rates of criminality, substance abuse, depression and poor health than single men. They also contribute more social capital to society. Married men are far more likely to coach little league, volunteer at church and shovel their elderly neighbor's walk. Married people, far more than singles (there are exceptions, of course), take responsibility not just for themselves and their children, but for the community.

In 1960, Murray observes, 88 percent of upper-middle-class adults was married. In 2010, the figure was 83 percent. A small drop. But among the working class, 83 percent of whom were married in 1960, the figure today is 43 percent. What does that mean?


Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
 
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