W. Bradford Wilcox — associate professor of sociology at the University of Virginia and director of the National Marriage Project – discusses the the recent report When Marriage Disappears: The New Middle America, part of The State of Our Unions series published by the Institute for American Values. When it comes to the health of marriage in society we often turn to the divorce rate as our primary statistical indicator. Since the 1970s, the trend is divorce has tended to stabilize and even declined in some sectors of American society. However, Prof. Wilcox views the institution of marriage from a number of different angles including cohabitation rates and out-of-wedlock births. With respect to these trends, Brad notes that while the poorest and least-educated portions of our nation have had high rates of cohabitation and unwed mothers, these practices have become increasingly common among “Middle Americans” — defined as those individuals with a high school education and moderate income. We talk about the consequences of this trend on both society and the religious landscape, detailing how married couples are more likely to attend church services than single parents. This, in part, may explain some of the noted decline in religious attendance in the US in recent years. Brad and I also delve into the causes of this trend. Interestingly, we note that while elite, highly-educated and wealthy Americans often hold values in support of cohabitation and single motherhood — and here we discuss the Murphy Brown controversy of the early 1990s — these same elite individuals are less likely to engage in cohabitation, more likely to practice traditional notions of marriage, and far less likely to get divorced. Prof. Wilcox offers some solutions for dealing with the decline in marriage among “Middle America.” At the end of the podcast we turn our attention to the role of religion and its affect on parenting, especially as it pertains to men and their role in the household.
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