Mar 30, 2019

Love is easier to find for educated whites

Data: General Social Survey by NORC at the University of Chicago; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: General Social Survey by NORC at the University of Chicago; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

White, educated, employed and richer Americans are more likely to have a steady romantic partner than their less privileged counterparts, according to new data by NORC by Chicago University.

Why it matters: The deep racial and socio-economic disparities in the U.S. shape the kinds of romantic relationships people can afford to have, which in turn perpetuate inequalities for future generations. "It matters because it’s a way that inequalities get reproduced," said Breanna Perelli-Harris, an associate professor in demography at the University of Southampton.

Between the lines: Steady relationships — when they are healthy — bring benefits including more financial resources, tax breaks, sex, needed social connection and a more stable upbringing for children, according to researchers and demographers. Children from stable relationships are then also more likely to grow up with better opportunities to find a wealthy, educated partner.

The trend is not new, but the impacts have become more pronounced over the past decade as social and economic gaps in the U.S. grow, Richard Fry a senior researcher at Pew Research Center told Axios.

  • People tend to have "a sense that the prerequisite for marriage is the ability to hold a steady job," June Carbone, Chair in Law, Science and Technology at University of Minnesota told Axios.
  • Meanwhile economic uncertainty, globalization and shifting job markets make it more difficult for less advantaged Americans to achieve the financial status expected for a reliable mate, Perelli-Harris said.
  • This has contributed to lower-income Americans cycling in and out of partnerships, which grow further apart as they get older as well as a normalizing of out-of-wedlock births.
  • More than half of births to Hispanic women and 69% to black women in 2017 were out of wedlock, compared to just 28% of whites and 11% of Asians, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The big picture: Americans are postponing marriage across the board, and the share of Americans not in cohabitating relationships (married or unmarried) is growing despite an aging population., Fry pointed out.

  • The wealthier and more educated are also delaying marriage, but they're still much more likely to eventually end up married. Marriage has even become a status symbol for some of the elite, Perelli-Harris said.

What to watch: The romantic opportunity divide is expected to continue to grow, Naomi Cahn, professor of law at George Washington University and expert in the impact of social inequality on marriage told Axios. The children of those with more privilege will in turn be afforded more opportunity for education, wealth and love.

Go deeper:

Go deeper