Thursday, March 8. 2007
The Wichita Eagle published an article Tuesday by Blaine Harden of the Washington Post. It was titled "Marriage a symbol of affluence" and is worth quoting whole:
One reason this article impressed me is that I recently read Thomas Edsall's Building Red America, where he makes a big point about how married couples are economically much better off than singles and unmarrieds, which gives them a view of economic dominance that fits so nicely into Republican Party strategizing. Most figures indicate that real wages have been stagnant or declining in the US since circa 1970, but those figures are based on individual wage earners. But married couples can buck that trend with a second paycheck, which increasingly is the case.
I guess what's surprising about the article is that it provides a surprising twist on the "family values" spiel that has been such a prominent piece of the Republican sales pitch. We don't readily think of marriage as an economic issue, even though it is easy to see that it is one. (E.g., would there be such a push by gays to be able to marry if doing so had no economic advantages?) And when we do connect it to economics we tend to assume that marriage is part of a cluster of virtues that incidentally net economic rewards. The idea that marriage is something the privileged do to cement their advantages isn't obvious, but it appears to hold up.
Especially interesting is the argument that the prevalence of marriage is a measure of economic equality. We know, for instance, that the 1950s, which we recall as a sort of family values golden age, was most significantly the period in US history when we came closest to economic equality. Not real close, of course, but much more so than in the robber baron era before the 1930s depression, and more so than the Reagan-Bush greed-for-all. One thing this suggests is that if you really wanted to promote marriage and family values, the way to do so would be to pursue egalitarian economic policies.
On the other hand, the Republicans' harping on values isolated from economics works nicely as a piece of class bigotry, providing a self-flattering rationale for well-to-do marrieds to look down on the less fortunate, and to blame the latter for their fate.
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