A study by researchers at the University of Virginiaand Harvard University discovered that working-class Americans are less likely to get married, stay married and have their children within marriage than those with college degrees.
"Working-class people with insecure work and few resources, little stability and no ability to plan for a foreseeable future become concerned with their own survival and often become unable to imagine being able to provide materially and emotionally for others," said Sarah Corse, a University of Virginia associate professor and the study's lead author. "Insecure work changes people's nonwork lives."
The study was based on direct interviews and surveys of more than 300 working- and middle-class men and women in the U.S. The respondents varied in race, age, educational background and marital status. The researchers found that in general, educated middle-class workers are better able to recover from the destabilizing effects of insecure work than the working class and, therefore, can seek and find stability in relationships.
"Marriage is becoming a distinctive social institution marking middle-class status," Corse said.
Jennifer Silva, a sociologist at Harvard and the study's co-author, said people who are living in an insecure and unstable situation find it difficult to trust possible partners because of the risk of betrayal. In addition, she said these people have trouble meeting material or financial obligations, and may feel that the emotional and psychological commitment required by marriage is too great a demand on top of other challenges.
On the other hand, the researchers found that college-educated middle-class workers with material, cultural and intellectual resources are more resilient when faced with the effects of possible insecure work in tough times and, therefore, are more able to commit to marriage and to planning families.
Corse and Silva said that the jobs available to those without a college degree are trending toward service-sector jobs, many of which are short-term and/or part-time positions that often lack benefits.
"These are foundational changes in the labor market for the working class, and they broadly affect people's lives," they said.
The research, entitled "Intimate Inequalities: Love and Work in a Post-Industrial Landscape," will be presented at this week's annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.