Marriage has, paradoxically, become a status-signal and a luxury of the wealthy
High-status Americans “walk the Fifties and talk the Sixties”, as someone once said, i.e. they talk like liberals but act like conservatives — something reaffirmed by a recent study by Brad Wilcox and Wendy Wang of the Institute for Family Studies. As Timothy P. Carney writes in the Washington Examiner:
“When it comes to their own families,” the authors discovered, “California elites with kids overwhelmingly ‘live right’ in private, giving their children the benefit of growing up in a two-parent family.
This is one of the great paradoxes of our age, something pointed out by Bobos in Paradise author David Brooks, as well as Charles Murray in Coming Apart, where he called on the upper class to “preach what they practice”.
Liberal, tolerant attitudes towards sex and marriage are associated with high-status individuals, but those same people usually live quite conventional lives. The same is true in England, where Bobo areas of London are full of part-time working mothers helping out with the school and doing the bulk of childcare while their husbands work long hours in the office.
Another paradox is that the more globally-minded internationalist urban elite are also very attached to their neighbourhoods, which tend to be sociable and high in trust. In contrast, the most rooted parts of England often have the lowest level of social capital and little involvement in neighbourhood social organisations (parental investment in school activities would be the best measurement of this). These are the “culturally conservative” areas which tended to vote Brexit and recently switched from Labour to the Conservatives. Essentially, they talk the 50s but walk the 90s.
One explanation might be that the looser values of the post-Sixties era favour upper-middle-class people, who have higher levels of impulse control and are therefore best suited to a society with little sexual restraint and easy access to credit, drugs or other pitfalls. On top of this, marriage rates heavily correlate to the ratio between men and women’s earnings, and the post-1970s economic settlement has hit men at the bottom hard while those at the top are still doing fine, absolutely and in relation to women.
Indeed in almost every way the social and economic changes of the past six decades have favoured high-status men, perhaps none more so than the decline of Christianity, which acted as a form of sexual socialism between males.
Marriage, therefore, has become a status-signal and a luxury of the wealthy. So perhaps upper-middle-class people don’t preach what they practise because that would lower their status, and neither they — nor their children — are hugely damaged by either the social mores of the age or the economic system.