This excerpt comes from a chapter by W. Bradford Wilcox in Room to Grow: Conservative Reforms for a Limited Government and a Thriving Middle Class.
One would never guess it from the marital misadventures and disappointments of the powerful and privileged—from ex-governors Eliot Spitzer (D-NY) and Mark Sanford (R-NC) to Hollywood stars Gwyneth Paltrow and Kim Kardashian—regularly chronicled on the pages of magazines like People and OK!. But in the real world, marriage is doing comparatively well in the privileged urban and suburban precincts of America, from Cleveland Park in Washington, D.C., to Los Altos, California, to Southlake, Texas. Indeed, among college-educated and more affluent Americans, divorce is down and nonmarital childbearing is low.
In the nation’s poorest communities, by contrast, marriage is in full retreat, and has been declining since the 1970s. What’s new, however, is that the retreat from marriage is now spreading into the bedrock of Middle America: that is, small towns, rural communities, and outer suburbs across America. From Danville, Virginia, to Pine Blugg, Arkansas, to Hillsboro, Ohio, divorce is high and nonmarital childbearing is on the rise.
Middle Americans are defined here as Americans with a high-school degree and maybe an associate’s degree or some college but with no college degree. They are neither upscale nor poor. They make up a majority of American adults, and of young adults. About half of young adults (aged 25-34) have graduated from high school without getting a four-year-college degree. Given their size in the population, and the central role that they have played in the American experiment, the growing fragility of family life in Middle America is cause for concern.