Marriage has long been, at least in part, a deeply gendered economic arrangement, so it's natural that growing economic opportunities for women would transform the meaning of marriage. In particular, it has made women choosier about their partners. That led to a surge in divorces in the 1970s, followed by a slow and steady decline in the divorce rate ever since 1981 or so.But what about the children?
Among college graduates, marriage has been re-founded on a new basis. As Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers put it, we have gone from shared production to shared consumption and formed more egalitarian partnerships based on common preferences rather than a swap of housework for rent money. This new model of partnerships has thus far not taken root as strongly in working-class relationships. That's unfortunate. But it's a mistake to believe women are making themselves worse off than their next actually available alternative. As women have become more empowered, they have gotten pickier. That means more single women, and a higher quality of relationship for the non-single.
It's true there is a lot of very persuasive observational data to indicate that children raised by stable, loving couples end up better off than children whose family lives are disrupted by divorce or breakups. But what we don't see is the aggregate increase in children borne by unmarried women leading to bad aggregate outcomes. Instead, the current generation of teenagers is the best-behaved on record. Young people are doing less drugs, having fewer teen pregnancies, and even doing better at meeting federal exercise guidelines. The high school graduation rate is at an all-time high, and so is the share of the population with a college degree.Take that, worryworts.