Stanford law professor Ralph Richard Banks created a stir with the title of his new book, Is Marriage for White People? Then, in a subsequent essay in the Atlantic magazine, he took his provocation a step further by suggesting that marriage is also for rich people.
Banks does not think that marriage should be primarily for white people or rich people. Quite the contrary. He believes that African Americans and poor people, as well as people who are less highly educated, are missing out by not marrying at high rates.
Here are a few points from Banks’ article, “The racial gap in marriage: How the institution is tied to inequality”:
“…those who are best positioned economically to live without a partner or to have a child without being married are the least likely to choose to do so. Among men, the more a man earns, the more likely he is to be married…Now, college-educated women are more likely than their less educated peers to marry and stay married.”
“Our economy has richly rewarded the highly educated, and they are consolidating those gains through marriage, widening the gap between the haves and have-nots.”
“One of the reasons that even college-educated African Americans lag behind their white peers financially is that they are less likely to be married, and to enjoy the economic security and stability that a strong marriage helps, over time, to generate.”
In the Atlantic article, Banks does not elaborate on the reasons why married people are better off financially. One obvious reason is that married people typically share a household and thereby benefit from the “economies of scale.” Two people – sometimes with two salaries – pay one rent or mortgage, one set of utility bills, and so forth.
Of course, any people who live together can take advantage of the economies of scale, so those benefits are not specific to marriage. Others are. Just counting federal statutes, there are more than 1100 ways in which officially married people have access to benefits or protections that unmarried people do not. There is discrimination against single people in Social Security benefits, in tax relief (yes, including income taxes), in access to affordable health insurance, and much more. (See Section II, “Where Singlism Lurks,” of the Singlism book for details about many of the ways that the disadvantaging of single people is written right into our laws.)
When auto insurance, fitness club memberships, travel deals, and so many other products and services are cheaper by the couple, couples are gaining financially over the single people – who are paying full price and thereby subsidizing couples’ discounts.
Married men also get paid more than single men. This is true when the men are similar in accomplishments and seniority, and it is even true when the married and single men are identical twins. (See Chapter 12 of Singled Out.)
Look back at those quotes from Ralph Richard Banks and see if you notice some important qualifiers. Not all people who marry are going to be financially advantaged over the long run. Banks, tellingly, refers to those who “marry and stay married.” He remarks on the “economic security and stability that a strong marriage helps, over time, to generate.” (Emphasis is mine.)
Those who marry and then divorce may find that they are not so economically secure or stable after all. For example, in an article titled, “Is Marriage a Panacea?” published in the journal Social Problems in 2003, the researchers found that unwed mothers from economically disadvantaged backgrounds who married did in fact, on the average, do better financially – but only if they stayed married. To quote the authors, “for women who marry, but later divorce, poverty rates exceed those of never-married women.”
The growing income inequality is something that should be taken very seriously. We can do better than to tell people to just get married and stay that way. Basic benefits and protections should be available to us as humans, and not just as married humans.
Let liberty and justice be for all people.
[Thanks to Christina from Onely.org for pointing me to the Banks article and for the insights she shared with me.]
Pearls photo available from Shutterstock.
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