The Best Way to Close the Wealth Gap in America? Try Marriage

Melissa Mowry, a 30-year-old communications manager in Asheville, North Carolina, has been with her boyfriend, Alex Feisley, for five years, and the couple has been living together for four, an insider told The Wall Street Journal earlier this month talked about the widening wealth gap between married and single people.

The couple don’t share a bank account, they don’t share rent and other bills, and they don’t have children, although they do have a dog named Goose. “We’re already saving a lot of money and spreading the cost over most things,” Mowry said. “I don’t understand how married couples accumulate wealth like we don’t.”

It turns out that Mowry and her spouse are not alone. “Starting in 2019,” Magazine reported, “the median net worth of cohabiting couples ages 25 to 34 was $17,372, compared to $68,210 for married couples of similar ages.” For singles, the average net worth dropped to $7,341. It is not a financial disparity between married and single peers. It’s a financial gap.

The data is not from a conservative think tank promoting the virtues of marriage. The source was the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. “The wealth gap between partnered and married couples is larger than one might expect,” said Anna Kent, a senior researcher at St. Louis Federal State University. “It’s so intriguing.”

This distinction may be “intriguing” to Fed economists or confusing to fellow animals like Mowry, but most Americans don’t need a Ph.D. in economics or sociology to understand it. One short sentence that most married couples end their wedding vows with says it all: “Till death do us part.”

Anyone who has ever said those words in front of family and friends—and, for many of us, in front of God—understands the terror these words evoke. And comfort. These words change everything. Married people quickly move from two separate lives to one, trying to build a future together. And that future will likely include children and the planning, responsibility, compromises and shared sacrifices that such a thing entails. Marriage, when it works best, moves us from self to selflessness.

Halfway Magazine Mowry revealed that she and her partner had discussed marriage, but never seriously. “I care about marriage a little less than I thought I would,” she admitted. “When you start living together, it almost feels like you’ve made that commitment.”

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The article quickly rose to the top of the day’s most viewed stories as more than 600 reader comments were filled with insight and common sense. The prominent theme was no judgment on Mowry’s choice to live together. It was a fact that she and others like her, including the Federal Reserve economist, were surprised according to the data.

Here’s one reader’s comment: “The mystery isn’t why married people are richer, it’s why supposedly educated people think it shouldn’t be true,” wrote Sean McCoy.

And more. “Honestly, if a man and a woman aren’t committing to marriage, why commit to something that involves long-term financial goals,” Megan Sella wrote.

This comment was echoed by dozens of others: “As my wife likes to remind me, ‘I’m not your roommate,'” wrote reader Tony H. “Call me old-fashioned, but there’s a difference.”

Here’s another one. “Marriage is a long-term commitment to a legacy,” wrote Ida Byrd-Hill. “Cohabitation is about reducing expenses in the short term. This critical difference in philosophy is evident in wealth building.”

This comment was probably the most compelling. “When you’re married, if you spend money on frivolous things, you’re spending the family’s money, not your own,” wrote Brad Hadley. “I spend almost nothing on myself anymore, except for the necessities.”

Unlike Mowry, the author of the book MagazineJulia Carpenter’s story seemed not only surprised by this data, but angry about it. “The wealth gap between single and married Americans has more than doubled in the past decade — how do you get ahead when it’s just you?” she said.

Most readers, judging by the more than 600 posts, thought the wealth gap was great news for people who get married and stick with it. Indeed, you’d think reporters would be shouting the St. Louis federal land’s good news about marriage from the rooftops. And the good news about the connection between marriage and happiness, which has been around for years. And the good news about America’s epic decline in first marriage divorces, which hit a 50-year low in the 2020 census. And the good news, which has been for decades about the emotional, social and educational benefits of marriage for children.

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A couple inspects a house for sale
Married couples are twice as likely to buy a home as singles, The Wall Street Journal reported in 2021.
Getty Images

Talk about promoting social justice? Marriage knows no boundaries of class, race or ethnicity. Indeed, marriage may be the best social justice program ever invented to combat loneliness, entropy, and poverty.

“You sometimes hear people say that it’s harder and harder to get ahead in America,” said JP De Gance, president of Communio, a nonprofit that works closely with churches across America to strengthen marriage. Newsweek. “But that’s not the case if you follow the age-old, unwritten rules of cultural success: Get a high school diploma, get a job, then get married before you have kids.”

College isn’t even necessary to reach the middle class, De Gance said, citing studies by the Pew Research Center and the American Enterprise Institute. “Among millennials who never earned a college degree but who still took those steps, 82 percent were in the middle or high income bracket by age 30. Overall, 97 percent of those non-college-educated millennials were not living in poverty .”

Despite growing evidence that marriage is a powerful social good, more young couples than ever are delaying it and moving in together, Magazine reported. The percentage of married adults fell from 60 percent in the 1990s to less than 50 percent in 2019. During the same period, the proportion of adults aged 18 to 44 living with a partner increased by 59 percent.

The Magazine‘s reporting soon turned into an editorial, with Carpenter treating cohabitants and singles as a victim class. “The rising value of assets, especially homes, is largely to blame for the widening gap,” Carpenter wrote. “And at a time when more and more people are staying single for longer, building wealth on your own is becoming increasingly difficult.”

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in 2021 Magazine reported that married couples are twice as likely to purchase a home as unmarried couples. This is nothing new: married people have always been a major driver of home sales in America. According to the report, more single women are buying homes than ever before (17 percent of all sales), which is almost double that of single men (9 percent).

“Most of my married friends have bought a house,” Mowry said Magazine. “I just don’t know how they did it. Everyone talks about how when you get married you make a fortune, but I don’t know what that means.”

Lowery and Carpenter should read Robert M’s post for answers. “My wife and I have been together for 43 years and she has worked full time for the last 23 years after getting her JD in 1998 (3 wonderful children before that),” he wrote. “Investing in each other is a lot of hard work, but when one ‘plays the long game’ in a relationship, it pays off incredibly.”

Lawley and other 20- and 30-somethings like her should also read Alice H’s post. “The bond of marriage goes much deeper than ‘feelings,’ although they do matter,” she wrote. “The power of commitment is revealed just when the ‘feelings’ are at their lowest. Usually, married couples face a rough problem. To overcome it, resolve the differences, and come out on the other side transformed, even stronger and more grateful, is indescribably powerful, adult experience.”

Alice H. is right. Staying faithful to one person for a lifetime is indeed a powerful adult experience. As the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in a letter to his niece before her wedding day, “It is not your love that sustains your marriage, but from now on it is your marriage that sustains your love.” These words are truer than ever. And why it’s time to start talking about youth marriage. The good and profound nature of the institution and its positive impact on adults, children and society, including the positive welfare effects it creates.

Data from the Federal Reserve and Pew Research prove it, and common sense and a sense of common purpose explain why.

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