The Upshot also gives fulsome credit to progressive advancements of cohabitation and later-marriage for the slight drop in divorce among the (shrinking) married population. But these are more common on lower economic rungs where divorce hasn’t declined as much, or where marriage doesn’t even occur. Cohabitation is said to be helping marriages at the top by allowing bad relationships to disintegrate before divorce is necessary. But looked at from a wide-angle perspective, cohabitation looks like a substitute for marriage for many others.
And what The Upshot doesn’t consider is whether inequality itself is helping the marriages of the upwardly mobile. The data shows that people who already succeed in many aspects of their life are making successes of their marriages. Far from a progressive dream, we may be returning to the two worlds of aristocracy. A married upper class and an unmarried peasantry is exactly what you see when you look at the British Isles in the early 20th century. Those living in converted Abbeys could keep their marriages together, but 65 percent of Ireland’s population was unmarried at the same time, the highest portion in the Western world of that era. There’s just more incentive to hold together the “estate of marriage” when the married couple have property that might qualify as an estate.
It’s a downer, I know. But far from a trendline of unqualified marital bliss, the prospects for marriage look bleak. And the improved prospects for a certain class of married person may not be caused by liberal values at all, but may be a side effect of concentrated inequality.