A new path to upward mobility—get married and stay married

Marriage, we have just learned, is a major cause of the growing great divide among American upper and lower classes.

Last week, in advance of National Marriage Week USA (Feb. 7-14), I took note of fresh news about marriage that should make every American stand up in alert attention.

In mid-January, the Pew Research Center told us 72% of all adults ages 18 and older were married in 1960; but today just 51% are—a record low.

This means fewer folks are getting married, or staying married—not a great sign since research proves children (our future citizens) do best when raised with both parents. It’s also not a great sign, since we need to replenish our younger population in order to maintain fiscal provision for the aging baby boom generation.

Then the new book, “Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010,” by Charles Murray, says that a retreat from marriage among the white working class is a key factor in the growing economic divide in America.

Murray says that marriage is more or less holding its own among the white upper middle and upper class, but falling off a cliff among the white working class and lower class. Perhaps Occupy Wall Street should take notice.

“Coming Apart” cites statistics from a theoretical upper-middle class town, showing 99% of children lived with both biological parents in 1962 and 84% of children did so in 2004.

Admittedly that’s a drop, but nothing compared to the theoretical white working class town where 96% of children lived with both parents in 1962 yet only 37% did so in 2004.

Research is overwhelming on the fact that this disadvantages children on an enormous scale—think increased teen pregnancies, increased prison populations, and children who grow up with no modeling for how to attain healthy marriage in the next generation.

So what can be done? New York Times columnist David Brooks, who cites “Coming Apart” as probably the most important book of the year, calls for a two-year mandatory national service program to teach responsible behaviors. (Murray cites a loss of the four core American values—marriage, honesty, industrious, and religion—as all contributing to the growing economic woes of the working class.)

Brad Wilcox, head of the National Marriage Project, calls for creators of film and television to promote the values by which the elite live, but because they are stuck in the grips of nonjudgmentalism, do not promote the values of marriage, hard work, obeying the law, and faith as the path to human flourishing.

In these economically challenging times, we must commit ourselves to lowering the high cost of retreat from marriage.

The Institute for American Values reports that 40 percent of all American babies are born outside of marriage today, and taxpayers spend at least $112 billion a year for divorce and unwed childbearing.

Charles Murray reports that less than 5% of white college-educated women have children outside of marriage, compared with approximately 40% of white women with just a high-school diploma.

The National Center on African American Marriages and Parenting reports that 72 percent of all African-American babies are born outside of marriage. The vast majority of men in prison are from fatherless homes. We can’t build prisons fast enough—prison population has jumped from 300,000 to 2.3 million in 3.5 decades.

Single motherhood most often impoverishes women and children.

Marriage builds the economic stability of children, supports the raising of a healthy next generation, and is a cornerstone for the economic health of our nation.

So here’s an equally compelling solution. Let’s call for a marriage education movement to sweep across the nation. Leading family therapists estimate that only 3 percent of couples ever seek therapy and usually only when there is a crisis, which can sometimes be too late.

This is why caring leaders are creating a new national observance designed to strengthen and support marriages, called National Marriage Week USA to be observed from February 7 to 14 each year.

If you are fortunate enough to be in a marriage, I encourage you to take care of it.

Whether you are married or not, Americans should be supportive of promoting marriage prior to childbearing and the strengthening of marriage at all socio-economic levels.

Nothing short of the future of our country, and our way of life, depends on it.

Sheila Weber is Executive Director, National Marriage Week USA (Feb. 7-14) and the Let’s Strengthen Marriage Campaign.