Tuesday, February 27
In January The New York Times reported that for the first time in history, more than half of American women are living without a spouse. Although the piece was later revealed to rely upon trumped up statistics–girls as young as 15 were included in the Times‘ count, as were women whose husbands were away serving in the military–the article opened up a lively debate on the intersection between marriage and social and economic capital. In a less publicized but equally important follow up piece, Kate Zernike wrote that the interesting marriage divide is not simply between married and the unmarried women, but rather between the classes. “The emerging gulf is instead one of class–what demographers, sociologists and those who study the often depressing statistics about the wedded state call a ‘marriage gap’ between the well-off and the less so.”
One of President Bush’s “compassionate conservative” goals has always been to lessen this “marriage gap.” The Healthy Marriage Initiative aims to address the growing fissure between marriage rates of the poor and the rich through grants to community and faith-based groups for marriage promotion and fatherhood initiatives.
Alongside cuts to social safety net programs like Medicare and Medicaid, this new initiative was allocated $750 million ($150 million per year for five years) in 2006. The goal of marriage promotion is, essentially, to increase the proportion of babies born to married couples and raised by two biological parents. Federal marriage promotion is intended to turn the back the clock to a time when all children were born into traditional, heterosexual families.
David Popenoe, head of The National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, recently told The Philadelphia Inquirer: “I think we should look at marriage as an endangered national institution and look at ways to revive it.”
Forget the whales. Marriages are the new thing to save.
Bush argues that strengthening marriage is important because it is in the best interest of children. In a 2003 speech announcing Marriage Protection Week, Bush said, “Research has shown that, on average, children raised in households headed by married parents fare better than children who grow up in other family structures…. By supporting responsible child-rearing and strong families, my administration is seeking to ensure that every child can grow up in a safe and loving home.” Advocates for marriage promotion programs frame this issue, like many other “family values” issues, as a decision about which women must make the “right” choice if they are to be good mothers.