What Marriage Means for Working-Class Adults Searching for Marital Love


David and Amber Lapp, researchers at the Institute for American Values, are the co-investigators of the Love and Marriage in Middle America project, a qualitative inquiry into how working class young adults in one small Ohio town form families. They summarize their findings in the Public Discourse:

... How do working class young adults think about marriage today? Do they still revere it even while they choose to delay it, or are they jettisoning marriage altogether? If they do revere it, why the increase in cohabiting unions with children?

These are among the questions we have been exploring in more than one hundred interviews with mostly white working class young adults in southwestern Ohio. Our findings are both sobering and hopeful to friends of marriage.

Hopeful, because in spite of the “new normal,” most of the young adults who spoke to us do aspire to marriage, or at least to what marriage stands for in their minds—mainly love, fidelity, permanence, and happiness. This is consistent with national statistics that find that 76 percent of high-school educated young adults say that marriage is “very important” or “one of the most important things” to them.

But sobering, because even as working class young adults dream of love, commitment, permanence, and family, they inherit a cultural story about love and marriage that frustrates those longings. And while there are other factors—both economic and social—this inadequate philosophy of love and marriage helps to account for the “new normal.”