Sex in San Diego: Men, marriage and money

by on May 31, 2012 · 19 comments

in Culture, Economy, Popular, Sex in San Diego

A thing of the past?

It’s no secret that marriage is in decline across America.

For example, a recent PBS report noted that only half of U.S. adults are married, an all-time low. And of today’s Americans, only 72%  have been married at some point, down from 85% in the 1960s.

But a lesser-known fact is that our country’s marriage declines have not been distributed evenly across the population. Poor people, in particular, are much less likely to get hitched than they were just a few decades ago.

Take men from the ages of 30 to 50. Among high earners — those in the top 10% based on annual income – the marriage rate has dropped from 95% in 1970 to 83% today. Along the way, these top-earning guys have seen their inflation-adjusted income increase.

But the story is different for the American male whose earnings are smack dab in the middle of the income distribution. This fellow has seen his real earnings fall nearly 30% since 1970 – and the odds this median man is married have plunged from 91% in 1970 to 64% today.

Overall, the data – gathered by the Hamilton Project, a think tank spun off from the Brookings Institution – paint a dramatic picture. The bottom line for dudes in San Diego and across America: most of us are making less money and having less luck in the marriage pool — changes which suggest we are having less sex, too.

Researchers for the Hamilton Project observe a similar pattern facing American women:

Marriage rates either held constant or increased for the top 10 percent of female earners over the last four decades. In contrast, the bottom 70 percent of female earners saw their marriage rates decline by more than 15 percentage points.

What is driving these changes? Why, for example, have marriage rates for high-earning women increased over time? On the latter question, the New York Times says there is no clear answer:

Perhaps the highest-paid female workers in the 1970s achieved that status by forgoing a personal life. And perhaps today it’s more socially acceptable for well-paid women to hire nannies and other household help so that they can maintain a family life, making marriage a more practical possibility.

And the Hamilton Project researchers note that at least some of the decrease in marriage across the country is driven by positive change:

In particular, many Americans are waiting longer to get married due to opportunities for women to pursue careers outside the home, due to better control over the timing of childbearing, and due to the ability to be more selective when choosing a spouse. These marriages starting later in life appear more stable and are less likely to end in divorce—a better outcome from any perspective.

But might there be more sinister forces driving the decline in marriage among the poor? All else being equal, does having less money mean the typical American has less chance at getting married? The authors of the Hamilton Project’s study think so:

Social scientists have long posited a relationship between economic opportunity and marriage. William Julius Wilson, in The Truly Disadvantaged, argued that the decline in marriage and rise in single parenthood among urban blacks was directly a consequence of the declining economic fortunes of young black men. High rates of unemployment and incarceration meant that the local dating pool was populated by unmarriageable men—and the result was that women chose to live independently.

The New York Times notes that, regardless of the causes, these changes in earnings and marriage patterns are boosting income inequality.

Rich men are marrying rich women, creating doubly rich households for them and their children. And the poor are staying poor and alone.

Speaking of American children, only 12% lived in single-parent households in 1968. Today, about 30% of kids live with just mom or dad — and these children of single parents are particularly vulnerable due to changes in money and marriage:

“Parental income inequality among children has dramatically increased over the last thirty-five years,” says the Hamilton Project, “creating an uneven playing field for future generations.”

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Abby May 31, 2012 at 10:05 am

Well, why marry the pig when all you want is a little sausage? :-)


Frank Gormlie May 31, 2012 at 10:47 am

Hiya Abby!!!!!!!!


Abby June 2, 2012 at 11:39 am

Heya! Fingers crossed, we may be coming back! :-)


Frank Gormlie June 2, 2012 at 11:43 am

Are you kidding? Don’t get us all excited and then poop out on us.


Abby June 2, 2012 at 4:16 pm

If Adam gets the job he’s been interviewing for, then we’ll be moving back!


Kai June 19, 2012 at 8:36 am

I think the article is missing the point; men are a lot savvier now. They don’t *want* to get married.


beg to differ June 19, 2012 at 12:22 pm

It’s the other way around — the average woman doesn’t need a man to make it in life anymore, unlike in the past — so the most unappealing men, which generally means those with little or no money, are left out in the cold.

The proof is in the income figures. The marriage rate for men with money has only dipped a little, and that dip represents the guys you are talking about (a small percentage of all men) who have decided they don’t need marriage. But the marriage rate for men with little or no money has plummeted — and unfortunately for those guys, they are the ones who really need to get hitched to survive economically.

Abby’s first comment pretty much summed up the change, and the position more women find themselves in today.


Kai June 22, 2012 at 3:44 pm

The data (and logic) suggest otherwise. Look again at the marriage rates for men, they are down for all income tiers. Wealthier men are *also* shunning marriage. And it makes sense; data is showing that in modern times men are just plain happier without marriage:

All this was predicted decades ago by feminist Barbara Ehrenreich in her book “The Hearts of Men.” It makes a lot of sense if one stops to ponder it: in agrarian societies marriage was a big win for a man, and having a wife was a distinct asset. But in today’s urban, technologically advanced civilization being married and having a wife is a distinct liability for a man, just as Ehrenreich predicted, and men are avoiding marriage in increasing numbers. Honestly, skim Ehrenreich’s book, it’s very good and quite accurate in its predictions.


beg to differ June 22, 2012 at 6:25 pm

…there are definitely some people skipping marriage because they are not interested in marriage.

But keep in mind that in America today, it is usually the woman who decides whether to marry a given suitor (rarely does the woman ask the man.) This leads to the theory mentioned in the article (from William Julius Wilson) that a poor woman has nothing to gain by marrying a poor man, so she is more likely to remain single. And with income inequality peaking, there are more poor men out there — hence less marriage at the bottom of the income spectrum.

The charts show income certainly has something to do with it. For both men and women, the rate of decline in marriage is much higher for those with less money. As you move up the income spectrum, the decline in marriage shrinks in almost-linear fashion.

The last chart shows the same change, sliced slightly differently — by education level. In 1960 (when income inequality was less pronounced across America) all education levels had about the same rate. Today, the marriage rate for the educated has fallen, but the marriage rate for the uneducated has fallen much further. Your theory does not explain this, but Wilson’s does.

(Thanks for the mention of Barbara E.’s book — I love her work but hadn’t heard of that one — it’s now on my list.)


Kai June 23, 2012 at 8:17 am

I think what you’re overlooking is that the men simply aren’t doing the asking. One doesn’t see articles or books or speakers catering to men about “how to get her to say yes to the question.” Rather, it’s all about “how to get him to pop the question.” Men today are happy to not ask. Ask yourself, why would they? The things that marriage used to have a monopoly on (sex, womens’ domestic work, approval at work) have all changed. Men prefer varied sexual partners, domestic work is done cheaper and better by various 100 watt appliances, and it’s actually a net negative in today’s workplace to be tethered down by marriage.

At higher income levels it makes sense that women would pull out all the stops to get a fellow into marriage, even going so far as to do the asking themselves. Wealthy fellows can more easily afford to give in to pressure and charm campaigns, but even they are avoiding this more than in the past, as the chart shows.

For ordinary men, marriage is no longer an economic clever move, rather, it is taking on a very expensive burden (data shows that disposable income goes down for a man after marriage–whatever more he may make is snatched away in vastly increased fixed expenses and allocations).

Understandably most guys, when faced with adding a facet to their life that requires a great deal of expense and maintenance for questionable gain–be it a 1993 Hummer SUV with electrical problems, or a wife–will simply not even begin that transaction. It’s just a question of economics and marginal utility of where a man spends his dollars.


beg to differ June 23, 2012 at 10:03 am

Your comments indicate you are toward the high end of income spectrum. For men at the other side, marriage usually means a higher standard of living… mainly thru adding second income while sharing housing costs but also via health insurance, tax regs, meal sharing and other expense saves.

If you know of data saying otherwise, please share. Otherwise I think it is clear that those of us who are relatively well off are living in a different world with different options than poor Americans.


RB June 23, 2012 at 10:25 am

I would think that both men and women benefit from a mutual association of some kind. I wish someone would communicate this to those having children.


Kai June 23, 2012 at 10:48 am

Apologies for not supplying the data earlier; the link below helps clarify what’s going on. There have been decades of poorly designed (often deliberately so) studies purporting to show the benefits of marriage for ordinary mens’ finances, but when one looks at a bigger, better sample and examines the data in more detail, a more common-sense picture emerges: men don’t get any increase in their economic position due to marriage, because women, once married, tend to start relying on the man’s income:

Young men are savvy to this (another way Google has had a major societal impact, by making possible lightning fast transfer of wisdom from old men to young about life, regrets, how women work, etc)


RB June 23, 2012 at 12:18 pm

As I start the process of writing checks to Berkeley for my son at the rate of $30,000 a year, I don’t think my wife, who still works, is the economic problem. Kids, not a wife or husband, are the real economic drain. Also, given the larger number of women over men going to college, going into law and into medicine, I expect women will have higher incomes and economic positions in just a few years.

IMO, there is another under reported issue with household income and wealth creation. High school drop out tend to form associations with other high school drop outs, high school grads tend to marry other high school grads, college grads tend to form partnerships with other college grads. Economic position in a household rises with the square of education since getting a college education leads to marrying another college education and income.


beg to differ June 23, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Good points, RB — and also, less education tends to correlate with having kids earlier in life — which itself correlates with less income.

And in such a world, some people are actually arguing to cut Planned Parenthood and reduce access to birth control. It’s like they are wishing more poorness on the already-poor…


beg to differ June 23, 2012 at 1:20 pm

Kai, here’s a the key line from your link: “marriage and cohabitation confer sizable — and identical — financial benefits on women while men break even upon entering either type of union.”

This (one study) does challenge the idea that marriage is economically good for the average man — instead, it seems the average woman is the one with strong financial incentive to marry. And the original article above doesn’t dispute this — it simply suggests the caveat that it doesn’t hold up for poor women, who increasingly look at their options (poor men) and conclude that staying single is better.

So in the low-income classes, drop-off in marriage is an income inequality issue — and one that must be affecting children among those classes. This means people concerned about family values should stop worrying about gay marriage and start fighting for more income equality.


Kai June 23, 2012 at 2:26 pm

I wholeheartedly agree that income equality is a bigger issue than what we have been discussing here.

Anyway, let me review what we have covered thus far: recent studies (better than the bad old stuff from the 1950s) show that men are happier if they never marry (the large UK study), men don’t benefit financially from marriage (while women as a group benefit a lot). Add to that the revelations that marriage leaves men disproportionately less time for exercise, and marriage tends to make men fat (while cohabitation does not):

OK. So marriage is no boon for men today. Per Barbara Ehrenreich’s predictions, whatever men “needed” from marriage in 1950 can now be obtained cheaper and better via social interactions of the metro village, pushing the button on the dishwasher, etc.

Still, there is the question: do men (lower income men especially) still do a lot of marriage proposals, and are being shot down, OR are men simply not popping the question very much anymore? This is hard to pin down because it would require logging conversations that aren’t typically captured, due to their nature. But we can make an educated guess by looking at things like top-selling books on Amazon, etc. That reveals a number of top sellers such as “Why Aren’t You Married Yet” etc. that are geared for women. There are no corresponding best sellers geared for men. Perusing Yahoo, other forums, or just comparing magazines aimed for men vs. women makes it pretty clear that there is no significant demand by men for insight into how to get married. Whereas there is significant demand by women for those how-to-get-married insights.

Finally, one has to step back and ask, does it make sense? Is there some compelling advantage(s) that would overcome the happiness hit, financial obligations, growing waistline, etc. relative to a man’s unmarried peers? Is there a reason why men today would want to get married, at all?

The hard data, plus the information seeking trends and Occam’s razor, point to the simplest and most intuitive explanation: men are simply popping the question less and less. They don’t need to.


RB June 23, 2012 at 2:57 pm
beg to differ June 23, 2012 at 10:06 am

Btw I don’t know if u r a man or woman, but it ain’t easy for a man with no money to secure 1 sex partner, let alone multiple…


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