Is marriage about values or value?

In his influential book, Coming Apart, Charles Murray made a compelling case for the cultural differences between affluent (white) Americans and working class (white) Americans. Among the differences were marriage and divorce rates. Wealthier whites marry and divorce at the same rates as in the past. Poorer whites marry less frequently and divorce more frequently. Murray said the affluent should advocate more for lasting marriages (and not have affairs or get divorced themselves when they advocate family values) because marriage does make a difference in escaping poverty. Josh Barro tweeted that women’s work, wealth and independence led to the decline in working-class marriage. Peter Spiliakos suggests that past decisions have had opposite effects on the value of marriage for the affluent and the working class.

The set of policies and institutions that incentivize marriage for the affluent and disincentivize it for the poorest is a choice. It might even be the best choice. Maybe eliminating no-fault divorce and changing the welfare system through eligibility time limits and reduced benefits would be too inhumane. Maybe Hungary-style child and marriage subsidies would be too paternalistically icky.

But let us be clear that we are making a choice.…

Joseph Coletti / Senior Fellow

Joe Coletti is a senior fellow at the John Locke Foundation focused on fiscal policy issues. He previously headed the North Carolina Government Efficiency and Reform initiativ...

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