Young Families Delay Marriage, Not Parenthood

Jennifer Ludden, national correspondent, NPR
Brad Wilcox, director, National Marriage Project

The National Marriage Project charts a steep decline of the two-parent family among the 58% of Americans with high school diplomas and often some college education, but no four-year degree. They're delaying marriage, but not parenthood, hoping to wait until they're in better financial shape.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Marriage is in trouble, but maybe not in the places you might expect. A provocative new report finds Middle America - the 58 percent of adults who finished high school but have no four-year college degree - losing faith in marriage, while more educated Americans embrace it.

In a striking reversal, working-class Americans are now more likely than those with college degrees to have children outside of marriage. They're postponing marriage in many cases, and their divorce rates are up.

At least part of the reason appears to be economic, and we'd like to hear from you today. How has the economy affected your marriage or your plans to marry; 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, Gregory Rodriguez joins us on the Opinion Page to argue that Gordon Gekko got it wrong: Envy is good.

But first, the economy and marriage, and we're going to start with a phone call. Let's get Chris(ph) on the line, Chris calling us from Jacksonville.

CHRIS (Caller): Hey, Neal. This is Chris. How are you?

CONAN: I'm well. Yourself?

CHRIS: I just wanted to say, you know, I am a recent graduate of college, and I just had a 4-month-old child, but I'm not interested in getting married. (Technical difficulties) trying times in the economy. And I guess we're just waiting for all the dust to settle.

CONAN: It's quite a commitment to have a child. Isn't marriage just - sort of come along with that?

CHRIS: I think it's something that society wants us to embrace but something that we're not quite ready to embrace financially. You know, it's something that we're willing to put off for the time being.

CONAN: And for the time being - how long is that?

CHRIS: God knows.

CONAN: And are both...

CHRIS: Whenever we feel the time is right.

CONAN: Are both of you working?

CHRIS: Yes, we are, full time.

CONAN: And doing okay?

CHRIS: Actually, we're doing pretty good. We just want to wait to see how things turn out. You know, we're really not sure where the economy's going to head, and we don't want to be stuck in a rut if we decide to make a decision.

CONAN: And decide to make a decision - i.e., to not stay together.

CHRIS: Right, right.

CONAN: Well, Chris, obviously, you've talked this over with your girlfriend.

CHRIS: Yes, my significant other, yes.

CONAN: Yeah, and she's OK with that?

CHRIS: She feels the same way. I think we're both willing to not rush anything, and not to compound issues with other issues. And I have to agree that, you know, divorce is really high right now. So to take that into perspective as far as the cost, I think, on a child, that's something that we're taking into consideration.

CONAN: All right, Chris. Well, good luck to you, and I hope everything works out.

CHRIS: Thank you very much. You have a good day.

CONAN: You, too. NPR's Jennifer Ludden is a national correspondent here. She covers a range of stories about family life. You may have heard her this morning, on MORNING EDITION, on this very subject, and she joins us here in Studio 3A. Nice to have you with us, Jennifer.

JENNIFER LUDDEN: Hi there, Neal.

CONAN: Also with us, Brad Wilcox, who heads the National Marriage Project, one of the authors of the report that we've been talking about, and he joins us from a studio at the University of Virginia. Nice to have you with us today.

Mr. BRAD WILCOX (Director, National Marriage Project): It's good to be here, Neal.

CONAN: And Jennifer, that call we got from Chris, those are the very people you were talking about in your story - or people like them.

LUDDEN: Yeah, well, he actually is just out of college. What Brad found in his study is there is this huge marriage divide. Actually, our caller said divorce is high but you know, among college graduates, it's really not. It has fallen down to 11 percent now. It's getting higher among the middle America that Brad describes in his report, those who have graduated from high school only - and even higher still among high school dropouts.

And you have this incredible difference as well, in terms of child-bearing. You have 44 percent of people with a high school diploma only, having children outside marriage. And half of those are to couples.

So many of them are planned, they're welcomed, but they're just not ready to take that next step that we've always thought of as going together with children.

CONAN: Brad Wilcox, I have to ask you: Did these findings surprise you?

Mr. WILCOX: Neal, I was surprised at sort of the depth of trouble that marriage is facing among this middle-American group. We see that there's been trouble among poor and African-American communities in the United States for about 40 years now. But we're now seeing some of these same difficulties are working their way up into the heart of American middle-class life.

CONAN: And this is a surprise because well, 30 years ago or so, you would have said it's the college-educated who seem to be skeptical about the validity of marriage. Their divorce rates are up; they're more likely to have children outside of marriage. And it's the good, solid, American middle class that holds on to these family values.

Mr. WILCOX: Yeah, Neal, exactly. So about 40, 50 years ago, if you looked at things like attitudes toward divorce, if you looked at things like religious attendance, what you saw is that on most of those outcomes, it was this middle-American group that was more likely to be, you know, family-minded, to be church-going, etc.

But in some important respects, what we're seeing is that it's now the case that college-educated Americans are more likely to be attending religious services, and to be taking a more skeptical view of divorce, and to be much more concerned if their kids were to get pregnant as teenagers.

So there's kind of been this, I think, reversal when it comes to the orientation towards marriage that these two groups are taking now, today in American life.

CONAN: And Jennifer, the couple you profiled in your report this morning, they cited the economy, but that is just one reason.

LUDDEN: It's just one reason. You know, the woman, her parents had been divorced when she was young. She was, like, you know, I'm wary of this. You know, you can understand that this is the generation, they're children of the '80s. That's when the divorce rate was the highest.

They also talked to me about how they don't see any positive image of marriage in the media. They're into reality shows, and it's all about the problems and the breakups. And you know, I haven't studied this; I know Brad could probably add more. But you know, I remember my childhood of a decade or so earlier, and it was "The Waltons," "The Brady Bunch," "Eight is Enough"...

CONAN: "Cosby."

LUDDEN: "Little House on the Prairie." It was all families. I don't you know, this isn't scientific, but they really felt like they were not seeing a good, popular portrayal of the institution.

CONAN: Brad, do you think that plays a part?

Mr. WILCOX: You know, it's a fascinating question. We don't know, you know, precisely. What we do know is that Americans who are in sort of this middle-educated group, who are high-school-educated Americans, who are high school dropouts, have really seen their involvement in both religious and secular forms of civic engagement drop.

We also know they actually watch more TV than college-educated Americans. So I think it's certainly plausible, as Jennifer is suggesting, that their kind of cues that they're getting now are much more sort of informed by the popular culture, and less informed by these institutions which would have been much more marriage-friendly, of course, than the ones that they are being exposed to now, on TV and other venues.

LUDDEN: I just want to add, as well, more on the economy. And you asked of people how the, you know, economy has affected their decision. But we're also talking about a long-term economic shift and, you know, how 30 years ago, you could have a high school diploma and raise a family singlehandedly, and send your kids off to college if you wanted.

CONAN: With a good factory job.

LUDDEN: Absolutely. And it really is harder and harder to do that now, and you have you know, the man I spoke with in Maryland talked about how, you know, his dad had always his mom had stayed home, and his dad was the sole breadwinner, and that's his ideal.

He and his girlfriend are both working now, and it's hard enough to make ends meet. So there's kind of this generation that grew up with this one ideal, that they find it really hard to fulfill because of sheer economics.

CONAN: Let's get some more callers on the line; go next to Tracy(ph), and Tracy's with us from Birmingham.

TRACY (Caller): Yes, I have a question about my husband and I both have master's degrees and have children. And the economic situation that we're in, if we were to decide to get a divorce, we couldn't afford one.

First of all, there's a retainer of $3,000 for the attorney each, so we'd each have a separate attorney. We live paycheck to paycheck. So it's almost like the '50s where, you know, we're sort of forced to stay together. And the job market is such that trying to get a good-paying job is difficult as well.

CONAN: And would you be interested in a divorce if it were economically feasible?

TRACY: I think we would be a lot more open to it. I think it would have already happened. I think it would have already happened. But in a way, I'm glad it hasn't for the children's sake, you know, for the children. You know, we don't argue openly but it's just, you know, it's just the relationship has degraded to such a point where it's not a happy union any longer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, I'm sorry to hear that.

TRACY: Keep the fa�ade up. Keep the fa�ade up. Keep plugging away. But yeah, we probably would have gotten a divorce three or four years ago had we been able to afford one.

CONAN: And Tracy, I hope things work out for the best for everybody.

TRACY: Well, thank you so much, and I'm enjoying your program.

CONAN: Thank you very much. And I wonder, Brad, I'm not sure there's any Brad Wilcox, I'm not sure there's any way to measure something like this, but the social taboos on something like divorce 30, 40, 50 years ago were considerably stronger than they are now and certainly, have been over the past couple of decades, anyway.

Mr. WILCOX: You know, they really are. I mean, there's been obviously a huge shift in American life since the 1970s when it comes to acceptance of divorce. So we're much more likely now to accept divorce.

But what's interesting about Tracy's comments is that we have seen a pretty marked decline both in divorce and the marriage rate. And I think people in general are kind of just more averse to either number one, get married or number two, get divorced, in the serious economic context that we're facing today in the United States.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to Rochelle(ph). Rochelle is with us from Fort Myers.

ROCHELLE (Caller): Hi. My story is, is I was married young, children young, divorced young, and did not go to college. And now that I'm with somebody that I think I will be with forever, we're foregoing getting married - and we've been together for six years now - for the simple fact that since I went back to college, if I got married, it would change the context in which I got all my financial aid.

CONAN: Oh, so you're are you still in college?

ROCHELLE: Yeah, I went back when the economy went down. I went back to school instead of out searching for the - you know, the thousands of applicants applying for that one job, I went back to school.

CONAN: So that when the economy bounced back, you'd be in much better condition. And a lot of people did that, and everybody says it's a really good thing to do. But you're in a situation now where if you said, and I am now married, you might not qualify for the financial aid you're getting.

ROCHELLE: Exactly, exactly, the scholarships that I qualify for because I'm single, and I have children. As soon as I sign that piece of paper that says I'm married, I lose all of that. And so we're foregoing marriage. And my children understand that even though we're together, we're not married for the simple fact that it's not economically viable for us to get married. Not because we're worried about a divorce - I've already been divorced once; it's, you know, it's something that can be done inexpensively, you know, being that everybody's on there - but the fact that I can't make myself better prepared for a future, you know, economic bounce-back if I get married.

CONAN: Well, divorce can be different for different people in different states, but Jennifer...

LUDDEN: This brings up a point. You know, I spoke with a sociologist, Andrew Cherlin, who also studies marriage. And his feeling is that there are so many couples now doing this, having families without being married, that maybe the society should adapt. And maybe we should tweak benefits like tax benefits or health care to recognize this.

Other people think that would send the wrong message and further discourage marriage.

CONAN: We're thank you very much for the call, Rochelle, and we look forward to your graduation.

ROCHELLE: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. We're going to talk more about how the economy affects marriage in a moment. Tell us your story; 800-989-8255. Drop us an email as well; talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

The latest study on the state of our union shows a growing marriage gap in the United States. Couples with more education report being happier in their marriage and less likely to get divorced, compared with couples with less education.

The study from the National Marriage Project turns much of what we thought we knew about values and beliefs on marriage on its head. You can take a look at the data for yourself. There's a link at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

One of the reasons for these results: the dismal economy. And we're wondering how the economy's affected your marriage or your plans to marry; 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Our guests are NPR correspondent Jennifer Ludden - her story on the changing face of marriage ran this morning on MORNING EDITION; Brad Wilcox directs the National Marriage Project. He's an associate professor of sociology at the University of Virginia.

And Brad Wilcox, I wanted to ask you about our most recent caller, who seemed to say that, at least in some ways, changing her status to say that she was married would reduce her benefits. And in a way, there are some institutions that seem to be getting in the way of marriage.

Mr. WILCOX: You know, it's a great point. And we're seeing it, you know, on a number of different fronts - on the education front we just talked about; also on things like getting food stamps; getting, you know, public assistance when it comes to housing - that lower-income couples are actually penalized when it comes to getting married because they have to then count that second earner when they're applying for any number of different services.

So, you know, I think one thing we can do on the policy front is to try to eliminate the marriage penalties that exist for many poor and working-class couples on the kinds of, you know, outcomes that this previous caller just mentioned to you.

CONAN: Here's an email that we have, this from Ginny(ph) in North Carolina: I'm a 2008 graduate with a full-time job. My boyfriend of six years six years, she writes in capital letters is in news broadcasting and has just now, after three years part time, gotten a full-time job, two hours away from where we live.

I literally put our entire marriage plans on hold until he got this full-time job, only to have him move away. We've not had a problem with getting married, but the economy has definitely gotten in the way of our plans to move forward with our life. But at least we got a dog.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: This from Margaret(ph) in Lansing, New York: How many people are confusing weddings with marriage? Prior to all the media coverage of super-extravaganza, was it acceptable to have a modest wedding that didn't put everyone in debt?

And Jennifer, that's an interesting point. The couple you profiled this morning...

LUDDEN: Well, one of the couples said she - the woman had no desire to have the big, white, poofy dress and the big she was not about that. But another woman I spoke with, I spoke with her and her boyfriend, she very much did want a big wedding.

And one of the researchers I spoke with said that he hears this a lot. People do want a big wedding. They see it as a symbol of success. A wedding, marriage says you have arrived, and it's kind of like they want to celebrate with friends and make a show of the fact that they're at a good place in their lives now. It's just that they feel - some of them - they can't get to that place.

CONAN: And those kinds of weddings are very expensive.

LUDDEN: They are very expensive. And, you know, this woman said: You know, maybe it would have, if we had tied the knot at the courthouse, maybe we would have thought second and twice about breaking up because this couple is separating. She just, she wasn't sure.

CONAN: Let's get another caller. Christie(ph) is joining us on the phone from Chapel Hill in North Carolina.

CHRISTIE (Caller): Hi. I've been really enjoying listening to the program, and I wanted to call up something that you already touched on - which was, you know, five years ago, my husband and I found ourselves with an unexpected but welcome pregnancy.

And we weren't married at the time but sort of searched our hearts. And we both had been raised with very traditional values, and decided to go ahead and have a small wedding at the justice of the peace.

But since that time, it's been very hard. I missed qualifying for subsidized child care by about $3,000 a year. I missed the low-income health care that our state offers by - again - about $3,000 a year. And now that I am out and working, he's trying to go to college, and he doesn't qualify for FAFSA because of my income.

CONAN: And when you say you missed it by $3,000, you're making $3,000 too much per year.

CHRISTIE: Too much per year if we count both incomes. And I actually asked my boss, can I give you back the raise you just gave everyone last year because then I would qualify for subsidized child care, which was $900 a month.

So and he said no, I can't do that - categorically. But it has definitely made it extremely difficult for us to move forward financially.

CONAN: If he does do it, don't call and tell us about it on the radio.

CHRISTIE: OK.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Brad Wilcox, these are some of the same things that you were talking about earlier. There are strange aberrations, like what Christie is telling us.

Mr. WILCOX: Yeah, and it makes perfect sense that we would like to try to help people who are in trouble. And we tend to do that, because we've got limited resources, on a means-tested basis.

But the challenge, of course, is that, you know, folks who are cohabiting are not reporting these two incomes, then tend to be more likely to be able to access these goods - compared to folks who are married and have to report both these incomes to employers or to public agencies or any other, you know, institution.

LUDDEN: And can I just add as well, what Brad found in his study was a remarkable drop in happiness reported by working-class couples. Whereas the college-educated were happier and happier, the working class are less happy - by about 10 or 12 points.

And I don't know why all that is, but some of the couples I spoke with very clearly felt that economic strains were really taking a toll on their relationship.

CONAN: Brad Wilcox, how do you measure happiness?

Mr. WILCOX: Well, we just ask couples if they're very happy in their marriage. It's a pretty simple outcome on this particular survey. And what we find, basically, is that back in the 1970s, high-school-educated and college-educated Americans were both about, you know - 69 percent of them were both saying that they were very happy in their marriages.

But by now, as Jennifer pointed out, only about 57 percent of the high-school-educated would say that, as compared to 69 percent, once again, of the college-educated.

So clearly, we're seeing this growing marriage gap between those who are college-educated, who are relatively affluent, who have the kind of means to kind of make good on their dreams of a soul-mate relationship. And we're seeing a much lower level of happiness among Americans who are struggling, oftentimes, to put together their rent or to, you know, to buy a home together, or to just hold on to that good job.

CONAN: Christie, good luck, and thanks very much for the phone call.

CHRISTIE: Well, thank you.

CONAN: Here's an email we have from Tom(ph) in Ledyard, Connecticut: I am divorced for one reason: the cost of birth and childcare. An abortion in 1978 cost $300, no problem. Birth in 1996 cost $22,000. My wife and I then survived the abortion easily - financially and emotionally. The cost of child-rearing destroyed our marriage and - are now chiseling away at our health.

We love our children more than anything else in our lives, but we wonder: Was it financially and socially irresponsible for us to have them?

That's a terrible question to be asking. And I wonder, Brad Wilcox, as you look at those, at a response like that - the costs of child-rearing destroyed our marriage and are now chiseling away at our health. You keep reading statistics that money and money problems are the number one cause of divorce in this country.

Mr. WILCOX: Well, we do know that kids on average, kind of in your typical household, cost more than $200,000, you know, over the course of their lives. And that tends to include some higher education as well. So it definitely is expensive to have kids.

And it's also the case, too, that - as you just pointed out - the data suggests that on average, financial conflict and financial difficulties is one of the best predictors of divorce.

So I think it's certainly the case that people should be, you know, pretty careful about having kids. But that just brings us back to - I think - the point that doing this in a cohabiting context is not ideal because they're much less stable and because people are less likely to pool their economic resources, and they're also less likely to be able to get the economic resources of their kin -and of their girlfriend or boyfriend's kin - because they have real concerns about where, you know, where the relationship is headed.

So it just sort of reinforces the basic idea that if you do want to have kids, the best place to do that is in a married context where you have more stability, and more support from family and friends moving forward.

CONAN: Yet Jennifer, there's that paradox that you addressed in your piece this morning.

LUDDEN: It's so it's hard to wrap your head around. If you're not getting married because you're worried about finances, obviously having the child is really expensive. I mean, my kids are much more expensive than my spouse.

And, you know, sociologists will say, you know, well...

CONAN: And he's got expensive taste.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LUDDEN: Sociologists say look, you know, people want children. They see that as there's not a that's a non-negotiable. I want, you know, to be a parent in life. I need to do this while I have a partner. Maybe thats something that's not going to happen. Maybe the partner will be transient, but I will then have my child to build the family, and we'll see about the marriage.

We're not ready for marriage until you feel financially secure, but you're not going to give up the child.

CONAN: Melissa(ph) writes: My boyfriend and I live together, and have been together for four years. We've not gotten married and do not have any plans to because one, it would be extremely expensive to pay for the wedding; and two, my boyfriend is hung up on the idea that he should be the provider, but I currently make more money than he does.

LUDDEN: That's a growing problem. That's another - whole issue.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: It may or may not be a problem, but...

LUDDEN: That may not be a problem. That's very true.

CONAN: But you pointed out in your piece: Incomes for males have stagnated over the past decades.

LUDDEN: Right. Women have made gains. They still make less than men, but they made gains because largely, they were discriminated against so much earlier in this century. But male wages have really kind of either dropped or stagnated for 30 years now.

CONAN: Here's an email from Mark(ph) in Minnesota: How does age affect quality of marriage? Do higher-educated couples marry later in life? Brad Wilcox, can you help us?

Mr. WILCOX: Yeah, they do. Although what's interesting about this particular sort of dynamic is it's much less the case now that college-educated Americans are delaying more than those who are less educated. So we're seeing now that many Americans are postponing their first marriage into their late 20s.

The problem, though, once again, relates kids, and that's because this high school-educated group and this high school-dropout group, they're still having their kids in their early 20s, even though they're getting married, oftentimes, in their late 20s. So they've postponed getting married, but not having kids, whereas the college-educated group has postponed getting married and postponed, even more, having their children.

CONAN: Well, let's go next to Sue, Sue with us from Manchester in Michigan.

SUE (Caller): Hi. I'm calling with a question. I was wondering - I'm not particularly religious or conservative, but how does the how society works now that people have intercourse and relations before marriage affect all of this? It's kind of like they can live together, do what they want together, but they don't have to be married. Is that a disincentive for people nowadays to get married?

Mr. WILCOX: Yeah. I think it is, and I think we have to recognize that one thing that's driving a lot of this is dramatic shifts in sexual morays. This comes out very clearly in the data, that one reason we're seeing this growing marriage gap is that middle Americans have become more accepting of premarital sex and more likely to engage in that. And then, of course, one consequence of that is that they're more likely to have kids, you know, before they get married. So that's certainly one part, if not the only part, of a larger story we're talking about this afternoon.

SUE: Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Sue. Here's an email from Pat in Tulsa. My husband, quote-unquote, and I have been separated for more than four years, but it's been cheaper to stay married in terms of paying taxes and, more importantly, health insurance. He's in a serious relationship now, and I hope he doesn't ask for a divorce before our daughter graduates from college. For now, I simply warn every man I date that they are going out with a married woman. And so that's the opposite side of some of the financial benefits that we were talking about before.

Now let's see if we can go next to Martin, Martin with us from Boston, Georgia.

MARTIN (Caller): Hi, Neal. It's great to be on your show.

CONAN: Nice to have you with us. Go ahead, please.

MARTIN: Yeah. Well, my wife and I, we whenever we were just boyfriend and girlfriend, we were both going to school, Appalachian State in Boone, North Carolina. And one day, she approaches me at work and tells me that she is pregnant. And so we proceed to - we decided to keep it, and we proceed to get married. And I had to make the very tough choice, whether to keep going to school - both of us keep going to school. And she's appropriate technology major, and I'm a English lit with a teaching licensure. And I made the decision to stop going to school and move back down here to South Georgia, to work on the family farm again.

And I think that was a good choice, all in all, because you know, teaching is kind of sketchy nowadays, I guess, with people getting fired and all that. And apparently, the agricultural sector of the economy is thriving. I've found that since I've been back. So I guess it was a good choice.

The bad thing is, though, that my wife and child my 6-month-old child, they are still living they live in Charlotte, and she drives to Boone an hour and a half away every week to finish her last class. So we've been apart since September. I had to move down here to pick cotton, and we've been apart since September. And that's been a real drag.

But, you know, we were really scared at first, but we're making things work. And it's really a bummer that I couldn't that I didn't think it was the best thing for me to do to go out and finish school. I have like, two full semesters left, and that's all. But I really think that, you know, what I'm doing now is the best thing for our family. So...

CONAN: The best thing, but you wonder in five, 10, 20 years if you're going to be happy?

MARTIN: You know, as after I moved away from the farm, even when I lived here, I hated it. I hated every second of it. And then when I moved away, and I started missing it a lot. And, you know, as I was working jobs like, you know, in restaurants and, you know, like I said, I was going to be an English teacher. And I started to realize that I just don't like people as much as I thought I did, you know?

CONAN: It's a good thing to learn now.

MARTIN: So, you know, I sit here on the tractor every day and farm, and listen to you. And, you know, farming is, you know, it's an enjoyable thing, and you get to see the, you know, your see your progress, you know, just go in front of you, you know - grow in front of you. And it's a rewarding thing. And I'm enjoying it so far. Hopefully, in 10 years, I won't be hating my decision.

CONAN: Well, Martin, it sounds like...

MARTIN: I really think that, you know, a family farm life is what I really want for my family. So I hope it all works out.

CONAN: I hope it does, too. And I hope everybody's commute gets a lot shorter. Martin, thanks very much for the call. Good luck.

MARTIN: All right. Thank you.

CONAN: We're talking about the future of marriage. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

And here's another email, this one from Amy in New Hampshire: I'm getting married next year. I think the dream of having the full dream wedding, with all the bells and whistles, is much harder to attain in today's economy. I do not have children, but the issue has been - able to afford the dream wedding. The days of the bride's parents being able to fork over thousands of dollars, I think, are over for many. The issue for us isn't whether we'll stay together or not. I guess if you just want to fly to Vegas and do a quickie wedding, it would be more affordable - to have an actual wedding.

And it's interesting. I've been reading some of the comments you've gotten on some on your story this morning, Jennifer, in the online version. And they include questions about - are people confusing weddings and marriage?

LUDDEN: Right - are we putting too much stock into the big, white dress and the expensive reception, with the five-course meal and everything? Yeah, I guess the license down at the courthouse isn't as popular as it used to be.

CONAN: And this from Jessica in Ferndale, Michigan: Neither my husband or I graduated college. I was 28, he was 38 when we got married. I had a very well-paying job when we finally decided to get married, and actually financed our honeymoon on what we got as wedding gifts. We just celebrated our fourth anniversary, and are currently trying to figure out how to afford children.

So Brad Wilcox, we have to remember we're talking about broad trends. And there are an awful lot of people very happy in their marriages who are high school graduates - and probably some college graduates who are unhappy, too.

Prof. WILCOX: Yeah, of course. We're talking about general trends, and there are plenty of folks in many of these categories who are doing just fine. There are also plenty of folks who are suffering. So this is not - but we're just basically suggesting that Americans kind of in this middle strata are facing more difficulty now than they did 40, 50 years ago, whereas the college-educated group were actually doing better on many marital fronts.

CONAN: Well, thanks very much for your time today. We appreciate it. Interesting study.

Prof. WILCOX: Thank you very much, Neal. I appreciate it.

CONAN: Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project, associate professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, and from the University of Virginia studios in Charlottesville. Our thanks as well to Jennifer London(ph) national Ludden, national correspondent for NPR. And you may have heard her story on "The Changing Face of Marriage," on MORNING EDITION today. More on our website. Go to npr.org. Jennifer, as always, thanks very much.

LUDDEN: Thank you.

CONAN: Coming up: Gregory Rodriguez argues "In Praise of Envy." The Opinion Page is next.

Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

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