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Growing marriage gap a tale of the 'haves' and 'have-nots'


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SALT LAKE CITY — One-half of America is like 23-year-old Nicole Booth: single. Watching her parents divorce and experiencing troubled relationships herself, the mother of two says she's never married and never will.

"I thought about it, but I don't think it's for me," she said. "I'm just really happy with me and my kids and where we're going and how everything is."

Hillary Tebbs and Patrick Coffey are about to join the other half of the country. They're getting married in September.


In one year, from 2009 to 2010, the number of newlyweds dropped by 5 percent. The decline was entirely among people with less than a college education.

"I think marriage is a way to communicate to your kids what a true loving relationship entails," Coffey says. "I think it adds stability to a family."

But this division isn't just about the ‘I do's' and ‘I don'ts' — it's about the haves and have-nots.

People with college educations — Tebbs and Coffey are about to graduate from BYU — tend to get married and enjoy the economic benefits of that union, two paychecks and economies of scale. People with high school diplomas or less — Booth graduated from high school — tend to stay single.

The rate of new marriages has been declining for decades, but in one year, from 2009 to 2010, the number of newlyweds dropped by 5 percent. The decline was entirely among people with less than a college education.

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Nicholas Wolfinger, an associate professor of Family and Consumer Studies at the University of Utah, says single mothers, like Booth, are five times more likely to be poor than women with spouses.

"There's a growing class divide in marriage," Wolfinger said.

A recent article in the New York Times says, according to studies, changes in marriage patterns may account for as much as 40 percent of the growth in certain measures of inequality.

Don Herrin, associate professor of Family and Consumer Studies at the University of Utah, got married at 22 — that was just what you did back then, he said — and became the first in his family to get a college degree.

"There was nothing that told me 'you can't do that,'" Herrin said.

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Now he sees a growing pessimism among people with less education.

"But now we have kids whose experience says, ‘hey, don't even bother,'" Herrin explained. "We're seeing that idea of the American dream…that's just going away for a lot of folks."

In October, the soon-to-be Mr. and Mrs. Coffey will move to Irvine, Calif. Patrick Coffey has a job lined up there with one of the big four accounting firms.

Booth works for a local school district helping disabled adults and says making ends meet is tough. But she's watched her brother, the first in the family to go to college, make it to dental school and she's encouraged. She plans to go to school to become a nursing assistant.

"Do I believe in the American dream?" she says, "Yeah, I guess."

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Peter Rosen

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