The Marriage Decline


Publish Date:
January 24, 2010
Publication Title:
Room for Debate: A Running Commentary on the News, New York Times, January 24, 2010
Op-Ed or Opinion Piece
  • Ralph Richard Banks, The Marriage Decline, Room for Debate: A Running Commentary on the News, New York Times, January 24, 2010.


The report by the Pew Research Center identifies a fundamental reconfiguration of marriage: As a consequence of increased education and greater access to high-paying jobs, wives are more likely than ever before to earn more and to be better educated than their husbands.

The increased percentage of wives who outearn their husbands signals the advent of more egalitarian marriages, a development that we should applaud. But if the experience of African Americans is any guide, the shifting relative status of men and women may also portend a threat to the stability and centrality of marriage in American society. The lingering discomfort among the couple, friends or family with role reversal marriages is not the only or even primary difficulty in such relationships.

As I have discovered in the course of research for my forthcoming book, dramatic disparities in earnings and education often signify differences in values, a divide that is deeper and more intractable than any rift created simply by the fact that her paycheck is bigger than his. Attitudes toward education, how to spend money, goals for one’s children, even leisure time activities — all reflect values that are shaped in part by one’s educational experiences and professional environment.