Working Class Marriages Sinking With Job Stability
August 13, 2013

Working Class Marriages Declining With Job Stability

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

New research being presented by sociologists from the University of Virginia suggests the decline of stable, well-paying jobs is having a significant impact on Americans’ attitudes toward marriage and starting a family.

The study, presented this week at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in New York City, also found major differences between individuals with and without a college education when it comes to making major life decisions.

"Working-class people with insecure work and few resources, little stability, and no ability to plan for a foreseeable future become concerned with their own survival and often become unable to imagine being able to provide materially and emotionally for others," said study author Sarah Corse, an associate professor of sociology in UVA.

The research team said they conducted their research through interviews and surveys with over 300 “working- and middle-class” Americans. The study participants included individuals between the ages of 18 and 70 from a range of ethnic and educational backgrounds. Participants were married, single, divorced, cohabitating and widowed. While some were biological and adoptive parents, some individuals in the study did not have children.

The sociologists found educated middle-class workers are more capable of recovering from episodes of insecure work than working class folks – translating into a propensity for more stable relationships.

"Marriage is becoming a distinctive social institution marking middle-class status," Corse said.

Harvard sociologist and study co-author Jennifer Silva theorized individuals with an unsecure and unstable situation have difficulty trusting partners because of the additional risk of betrayal. These people may also find it difficult to commit to material or financial obligations that are often linked with marriage.

"Marriage has lost its relevance as a marker of adulthood," added Silva, who received her PhD in sociology from UVA.

Conversely, people with college degrees tend to have more career stability and better incomes – allowing for the various material commitments of marriage and having children. Study researchers even found middle and upper-middle class people express high expectations for their marriages, with an emphasis on self-fulfillment and quality parenting. These people are also able to "insure" themselves against marital pitfalls through "investments," such as therapy and special "date nights," Corse said.

The study researchers noted wages for those without a college degree have fallen dramatically in the United States over the past few decades, partially due to outsourcing of well-paying manufacturing jobs with decent benefits. These workers appear to have been relegated to low-paying service sector jobs without benefits, the sociologists noted.

"These are foundational changes in the labor market for the working class and they broadly affect people's lives," they added. "Our interviewees without college degrees expressed feelings of distrust and even fear about intimate relationships, and had difficulty imagining being able to provide for others."

Meanwhile, the emerging middle class in other nations is expected to drive up costs around the world – placing additional stress on American workers to buy the things they need. Consumer spending in emerging markets like Brazil, India and China was responsible for 8.1 percent of global gross domestic product in 2010 and is expected to reach 12 percent by 2015. US consumption as a percentage of global GDP is dropping, from 22 percent in 2002 to an expected 14 percent in 2015.