To hear the public tell it, financial security isn’t all that important to marriage. Asked to evaluate the reasons they got married, married respondents place the greatest value on love (93% say this is a very important reason), followed by making a lifelong commitment (87%), companionship (81%), having children (59%), and, at the bottom of the list, financial stability (31%). Unmarried adults order the reasons the same way when asked to evaluate why they would consider getting married. But if economic security is no longer a key reason people marry, the lack of economic security nonetheless appears to be a key reason people don’t get married. In 1960, there was virtually no difference by socio-economic status in the proclivity to marry: 76% of college graduates and 72% of adults who did not attend college were married. By 2008, that small gap had widened to a chasm: 64% of college graduates were married, compared with just 48% of those with a high school diploma or less. During this same period, the income gap between the well-educated and the less-educated — and between the rich and poor — also widened substantially. A 2010 Pew Research survey finds that among the unmarried, there are no significant differences by education or income in the desire to get married; just under half of the college educated (46%) and those who have a high school diploma or less (44%) would like to get married. Likewise, roughly similar shares of the unmarried who earn above and below $100,000 a year would like to marry. But the survey also finds that the less education and income people have, the more likely they are to say that in order to be a good marriage prospect, a person must be able to support a family financially. Taken together, these findings suggest that those with less income and education are opting out of marriage not because they don’t value the institution or aspire to it benefits, but because they may doubt that they (or a potential spouse) can meet the standards they impose on marriage. Read More

Russell Heimlich  is a former web developer at Pew Research Center.