For white working-class women, it makes sense to stay single mothers

The women ready for marriage in this group have grown larger than the group of marriageable men who would be good partners. These men—the ones with better jobs and more stable lives—have become more reluctant, in turn, to settle for only one woman. Their marital prospects have improved, and they could marry a reliable partner. Yet, with a choice of committing to a woman who outearns them or keeping their independence, the men seem to prefer their freedom. Lily did go out for a while with a more promising high school classmate. But then she discovered text messages with another woman on his phone. The experience left her jaded. She has very few friends, married or unmarried, in strong relationships, and she did not see much point in waiting for a Prince Charming she did not expect to find. Indeed, while less than 20 percent of the most highly educated Americans believe that marriage has not worked out for most of the people they know, more than half of those who are least educated believe that marriage has not worked out…

Does society have an interest in helping couples like Lily and Carl stay together? Probably, but not in the way many policymakers have proposed. Those who would promote marriage seek to do so largely by taking away Lily’s independence. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, for example, suggests that more restrictive abortion policies could increase the marriage rate. And many who seek to promote marriage, like the Catholic Church, link the availability of contraception to the sexual freedom they see as responsible for the decline in marriage. Others, like Charles Murray, would cut programs such as Medicaid, food stamps, early childhood education and child care, mandatory family leave, and other policies that make it easier for women like Lily to raise a child on their own.