Suzanne Fields

Marrying later has special economic benefits for college-educated women in their 30s, who tend to describe their marriage as a "capstone" rather than a "cornerstone" in their lives; it's something they do after "they get all their other ducks in a row." They'll typically earn more annually than their college-educated sisters who marry earlier. No such benign interpretations can be found for the poorest among us.

Long gone is Jane Austen's world, where the gentry was obsessed with young marriages, largely because of the economic considerations of the man. What also has changed is the social pressure applied to a man to marry the woman he gets pregnant.

For high-school dropouts, who make up our poorest families, 83 percent of the women give birth without being married to the father. The knowledge economy makes it difficult for these women, as well as most of the men they meet, to get good jobs. Such women usually agree it's better, psychologically and economically, not to get pregnant, but the lack of a positive work identity makes it easier to slip "unintentionally" into motherhood without marriage. They don't have other ducks to get in a row.

The sexual revolution offered equal sexual opportunities to both sexes, as it erased the harsh stigma attached to pregnancy without a husband, but it did not produce equal economic results for the man and the woman who create a baby. Among college graduates, only 12 percent of women give birth without what our grandmothers called "benefit of clergy."

Many unmarried lower-income women in their 20s cohabit with the father of the child, but even if they do, the likelihood that he will be around in five years is not high. He is three times likelier to be gone by their child's fifth birthday, as compared with married couples their age. Other children follow, with another "partner" or "partners," and the statistics that accompany such insecure beginnings with low earnings range from grim to very grim. Climbing into the middle class may be deferred and is often a dream destroyed.

The social experts are asking teachers, policymakers and even show business celebrities to join a national conversation about the damaging illegitimacy rates among young adults to emphasize the importance of marriage for having children.

While gays fight in the courts to tie a knot as the way to establish security and stability in their relationships -- even for raising children -- it's a sad irony that so many less educated heterosexual couples with children choose not to marry nonetheless. Strange fruit of our time.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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