Charles Murray’s book Coming Apart has sparked a remarkable conversation about growing inequality in American culture. The upper and lower classes – or “
Because, in Cook’s words, Americans are no longer “starry-eyed about marriage as an aspiration,” increasingly the definition of the institution becomes more obscured. What is marriage for, anyway? David and Amber Lapp went into Fishtown to ask this very question for Public Discourse. The majority of responses cited a subjective feeling of happiness or a “spark” with little consideration for permanence, service, or even children. Curiously, marriage was still considered to be a solemn, almost sacred, institution that should not be entered into lightly. “It is not out of disdain for marriage that working-class young adults delay marriage and begin families,” the Lapps write, “but out of reverence for it as something that ought not be broken.”
Marriage then becomes an empty set: it should not be entered into lightly, but what is it a couple is entering in the first place? While research from the Marriage and Religion Research Institute has demonstrated that marriage does have a positive effect on happiness, it appears this cannot realistically be the ultimate purpose of the institution if it is to last. Nevertheless, a number of the responses the Lapps received can be found in marriage, as MARRI's 162 Reasons to Marry suggests. A reexamination of the meaning of marriage could help Fishtown out of its economic and social doldrums.