Marriage and Fathering Gap


I like Kay Hymowitz's writing - it can be kinda depressing but it highlights important social trends. About four years ago, I read a great book of her called Marriage and Caste. I'm surprised more people don't reference her work. She was one of the first to describe in detail the marriage gap. Articles about it are everywhere - as recent as this week. College-educated people marry at far higher rates than those who have only a high school diploma or less. People with at least a bachelor's degree also divorce at far lower rates than those less educated. This means we are creating a society where marriage is a filter for the elite and the working class and poor will stay poor due to low marriage rates.

This is especially pronounced when viewed across race. In a recent article about the marriage gap's implications on fatherhood, a Pew research report published last year states 44% of black fathers with children under 19 live away from their parents. This is almost double the average rate (27%) across all races of fathers. It reminds of another article I read where the author talked about marriage in an inner-city classroom. A black kid raised his hand and said "Why would I get married? Marriage is for white people".

Belinda Luscombe's article points out that married men, because of higher education, are able to secure better-paying jobs and greater work flexibility. The result is that married men are spending more time than ever with their kids. The downside is that more dads then ever are not married and they don't spend much time with their kids. Most of these fathers don't even live with their children.

One thing Hymowitz's book is good at addressing is the implication of the marriage gap on children. Divorced and single-parent households are not good for raising kids. They are associated with all kinds of negative outcomes, especially cyclical poverty. A fragmented household is simply more expensive to maintain than a united one. The emotional and social toll of fragmentation is pretty significant as well. Kids growing up with absent fathers tend to have greater mental health problems, lower educational attainment, higher rates of addiction, etc.

What's the implication for the church and us as Christians? We cannot help poor people unless we help change the culture of poverty. In elite circles, marriage is positively stigmatized. The only place I get to talk to people from diverse backgrounds is at cafes and basketball courts. I sense that in lesser-educated circles, marriage is negatively stigmatized. Its not good or cool to be married. It is a burden, it is for white people, it means loss of freedom, and it is far better to be single than to marry and get divorced. I sense most working class people don't see marriage as the primary means of having children and raising a family.

How can you view marriage and family as good when its difficult to find and hold a job? How can fatherhood be enjoyable if your work affords you no flexibility to be with your wife and children? How could you want to get married if none of your friends aren't married and your parents are divorced? How can you possibly want or know how to be an involved dad if no adult male has ever been positive role model in your life?

The church, in its sanction of marriage, cannot be a bastion for the married. The church cannot be a place where only the married (and educated and rich and white or even Asian) fit in and the unmarried and divorced don't. Its too easy to look down on unmarried people and condemn them because we are ignorant of the powerful cultural, social, and economic forces at play. The gospel offers hope for the hopeless, the broken, and even and especially the fatherless. Father, may you reveal the ways in which we perpetuate this tragic cycle and unveil the ways in which the good news of your Son rebukes the work of Satan.

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