The Growing Relationship between Class and Family: Should We Be Talking About Evolutionary Analysis?

Posted: 25 May 2011

See all articles by June Carbone

June Carbone

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - School of Law

Date Written: May 23, 2011


Sociologists document a shift in the relationship between class and family. Historically, the more education a woman had the less likely she was to marry, and class differences in marriage rates for men in the United States were small. Today, the likelihood of marrying, staying married and raising children within a two parent family corresponds directly with class. Divorce rates, which seemed to plateau in the nineties, in fact diverge sharply by women's education - the better educated have seen divorce rates decline back to the levels before no-fault divorce while they have continued to increase for everyone else. In addition, the college educated have continued to hold the line on non-marital births at the same time they have risen sharply for everyone else. Today, 41% of all births are non-marital; yet, the figure remains at 2% for white college grads and 6% for college graduates overall. There is widespread agreement that these changes reflect in part the greater independence of women, the declining economic prospects of blue collar men, and the growing mismatch between men and women's educational achievement and employment opportunities. What has received less attention are evolutionary explanations. The most recent data finds that the greater the male income inequality in a region, the lower women's marriage rates and the lower the socio-economic status of the woman, the more likely she is to have children with multiple men. These findings, which appear to reflect women's choices to a greater degree than men's, mystify sociologists and distress policy makers. Yet, they seem to bear out evolutionary predictions that 1) women will prefer access to "better genes" from multiple partners if fidelity does not secure a mate who can meaningly invest in the children and 2) women who can secure a significant investment from a long term partner will become pickier as the variance among potential mates increases. This talk will raise the question of the importance of this discussion, the political and scholarly limitations of the discourse, and the potential implications for examining the relationship between inequality and family.

Suggested Citation

Carbone, June, The Growing Relationship between Class and Family: Should We Be Talking About Evolutionary Analysis? (May 23, 2011). Gruter Institute Squaw Valley Conference: Law, Institutions & Human Behavior, 2011, Available at SSRN:

June Carbone (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - School of Law ( email )

229-19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States

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