How Inequality Shapes the American Family

From Alternet:

Inequality changes who we are, individually and collectively.

By Lynn Stuart Parramore
June 4, 2014

How do you decide who to marry, or whether to marry at all? How many children to have? Whether to engage in short-term hookups or long-term partnerships?

We don’t like to think that economic forces outside our individual control can shape the most intimate aspects of our lives, like whether or not we wed, when to have kids, and what kinds of families we create. But a growing body of evidence suggests that inequality is changing not only American family structures, but the roles men and women play and the calculations they make in pairing and establishing households. Inequality changes who we are, individually and collectively.

Inequality is changing the stakes for forming partnerships. It means, for example that there are fewer men with stable economic cicrumstances for women to choose from as appropriate long-term partners at both the lower and middle rungs of the economic ladder. A shortage of men in the less financially stable groups means that the guys who do look like good prospects realize don’t feel any particular pressure to commit. So they don’t. On the other hand, working-class and poor women who consider marrying men who may get laid off or become financial burdens are less ready to commit themselves.

At the top of the economic ladder, conditions are quite different. There people have resources to cope with childcare, good schools, therapy, and other things that can help families succeed. More lasting commitments and greater family stability go hand-in-hand with greater resources.

Law professors June Carbone and Naomi Cahn have been investigating how inequality influences family life. In their new book, Marriage Markets: How Inequality is Remaking the American Family, they find we are creating profound social changes through America’s tolerance of wealth and income disparities. In the New Gilded Age, class once again becomes a dominant force in human life, just as it was aboard the Titanic. In an email interview, I caught up with the authors to delve further into the new class-based American family.

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