Fewer than a quarter of American households contain a married couple with children, down from half in 1960. While the numbers are lower across the board, the nuclear family appears to have become a luxury, with wealthier people far more likely to marry before having children.
Marriage has declined across all income groups, but it has declined far less among couples who make the most money and have the best education. These couples are also less likely to divorce. Many demographers peg the rise of a class-based marriage gap to the erosion since 1970 of the broad-based economic prosperity that followed World War II.
“We seem to be reverting to a much older pattern, when elites marry and a great many others live together and have kids,” said Peter Francese, demographic trends analyst for Ogilvy & Mather, an advertising firm.
In recent years, the marrying kind have been empowered by college degrees and bankrolled by dual incomes. They are also older and choosier. College-educated men and women are increasingly less likely to “marry down”—that is, to choose mates who have less education and professional standing than they do.
Married couples living with their own children younger than 18 are also helping to drive a well-documented increase in income inequality. Compared with all households, they are twice as likely to be in the top 20 percent of income. Their income has increased 59 percent in the past three decades, compared with 44 percent for all households, according to the census.