Marriage is in trouble in Middle America. High rates of divorce, nonmarital childbearing and single parenthood were once problems primarily concentrated in poor communities. Now, the American retreat from marriage is moving into the heart of the social order: the middle class.

This retreat from marriage imperils the social and emotional welfare of children. It also threatens the American Dream, insofar as adults who do not get and stay married are less likely to strive, to succeed and to save for the future.

This stark assessment emerges from a new report, When Marriage Disappears: The Retreat from Marriage in Middle America, sponsored by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and the Center for Marriage and Families at the New York-based Institute for American Values.

The report explores marriage trends among three segments of American society: high school dropouts (12 percent of the adult population), those with high school diplomas who didn't go on to college (58 percent of adults) and college-educated men and women (30 percent).    

These segments of society reveal sharp differences in the marriage experience, and expectations for it. But the most striking finding is this: Marriage has declined most precipitously among the "moderately educated"—that is, those with a high school education, who make up the biggest number of adults.

The breakdown of marriage and family has afflicted the poorest Americans for more than a generation. What is happening today is a widening gulf between the middle class, where a sharp decline in marriage is at work, and the most educated and affluent Americans, where marriage indicators are either stable or improving.

Many of us need to adjust our thinking to recognize ...

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