Marriage is becoming the preserve of middle-class couples as growing job insecurity leaves blue-collar workers reluctant to commit to long-term relationships, new research suggests.
Marriage is increasingly a badge of middle-class status as working class men and women battered by the uncertain job market shun financial and emotional commitment, research suggests Photo: ALAMY
The decline of stable, full-time manufacturing jobs and the rise in casual employment mean that working class men and women are now less likely to tie the knot, stay married and have children within wedlock.
As a result, marriage is increasingly a “distinctive social institution” that marks out middle-class status, the study’s authors said.
Married people are now in a minority in England and Wales, having falling from 51 per cent of the population in 2001 to 47 per cent in 2011.
Sociologists in the United States interviewed and surveyed more than 300 working and middle class people aged between 18 and 70 about how their employment status affected their relationships.
In general, people with a university education were better at coping with the destabilising effects of insecure jobs than manual workers and were therefore more able to commit to marriage and planning a family, the researchers found.
Jennifer Silva, of Harvard University, one of the academics behind the study, said blue-collar workers living in an unstable situation had difficulty trusting potential partners because of the risk of betrayal.
They also found it difficult to imagine providing for others and could feel that the emotional and psychological commitment of marriage was too great on top of the other challenges in their lives.
The study noted: “Their disillusionment with any possibility of long-term success in the labour market was matched by a pervasive sense of disillusionment about the possibility of meaningful, enduring relationships.”
By contrast, university-educated people tended to have stable jobs with better incomes, allowing them to make the emotional and material commitment of getting married and having children within wedlock.
The researchers found that middle-class couples had high expectations for their marriages, involving self-fulfilment and deep commitment by both parents to bringing up children.
They also “insured” themselves against the risk of marital breakdown by “investing” in things like therapy sessions, adult education classes and regular “date nights”.
However, the study added: “These forms of ‘private insurance’ though, are too ‘costly’ for most working class couples, even though they are at greater risk of divorce to begin with and have fewer safety nets to catch them if they do fall.”
The trend was blamed on the sharp fall in wages for people in the West without a university education as manufacturing work is outsourced to developing countries, in many cases leaving them forced to take part-time service sector jobs with poor benefits.
Professor Sarah Corse, a sociologist at the University of Virginia, who led the research, said: “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.
“Insecure work changes peoples’ non-work lives.”
She added: “Marriage is becoming a distinctive social institution marking middle-class status.”
The study, entitled ‘Intimate Inequalities: Love and Work in a Post-Industrial Landscape’, was presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in New York.
:: Britain is gradually falling out of love with marriage, official figures show.
Married people are now in a minority in England and Wales, dropping from 51 per cent of those aged 16 and over in 2001 to 47 per cent in 2011, the most recent census found.
At the same time the proportion of the population co-habiting with a partner outside of marriage rose from 9.8 per cent to 11.9 per cent.
Last year a record 47.5 per cent of babies were born to unmarried mothers in England and Wales, up from just 11 per cent in 1979. If the trend continues, a majority of children will be born out of wedlock within three years.
However, there are some indications that marriages are becoming more likely to succeed. The number of divorces granted per year fell from a peak of 165,000 in 1993 to 118,000 in 2011.
SOURCE: The Telegraph