business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Businesses like the food industry depend on certain traditions continuing to take place … continued prosperity and growth, for example, depend on people of a certain age deciding to get married and have children, which inevitably leads to these same people spending more money in the store. It doesn’t matter whether they are rich or poor … the circle of life continues.

Sometimes, though, the circle does get broken.

The New York Times had a story the other day about how “marriage, which used to be the default way to form a family in the United States, regardless of income or education, has become yet another part of American life reserved for those who are most privileged. Fewer Americans are marrying over all, and whether they do so is more tied to socioeconomic status than ever before. In recent years, marriage has sharply declined among people without college degrees, while staying steady among college graduates with higher incomes.”

The story goes on: “Currently, 26 percent of poor adults, 39 percent of working-class adults and 56 percent of middle- and upper-class adults ages 18 to 55 are married, according to a research brief published today from two think tanks, the American Enterprise Institute and Opportunity America. In 1990, more than half of adults were married, with much less difference based on class and education: 51 percent of poor adults, 57 percent of working-class adults and 65 percent of middle- and upper-class adults were married.”

Now, there isn’t unanimity about why. The Times notes that people on the left tend to blame the economy, while those on the right say it is a decline in moral values. I tend to think that there is a third option - that a lot of people have watched their parents endure lousy marriages and a high level of misery, and have decided that it simply isn’t for them.

But whatever the reason, people aren’t getting married to the same degree. Which means that traditional behaviors may be falling by the wayside, which in turn means that retailers may find that traditional business patterns may be disrupted as well.

There is, however, one other piece of Eye-Opening news. According to the Times, “as marriage has declined, though, childbearing has not.” So maybe it’ll just be single parents driving around in minivans and navigating supermarket aisles.
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