One of President Donald Trump’s key campaign promises was to revive the U.S. manufacturing sector, where a decline in employment opportunities has had far-reaching economic consequences – even reduced marriage rates.
Manufacturing employment has dropped 20% among men and 31% for women over roughly the past two decades: From 1980 to 2014, the U.S. economy lost about 7 million jobs in the sector, according to The Brookings Institute. That contraction led to a correlated decline in marriageable men, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research paper by economists David Autor, David Dorn and Gordon Hanson.
Shocks to local manufacturing communities resulting from increased competition from such countries as China reduce the earnings potential of males without college degrees, which in turn decreases their viability as potential husbands.
“By differentially impairing male earnings capacity, such shocks reduce the attractiveness of marriage, fertility, and joint child-rearing,” the three authors concluded in a new study published last month.
The loss of manufacturing positions causes men, who would otherwise be working in such jobs, to leave where they grew up, enlist in the military, end up in jail, lose their homes or resort to potentially fatal vices such as drugs and alcohol. All of these problems decrease the pool of available men for single women, leading to not only a decline in the marriage rate, but also an increase in divorce, teenage pregnancy and the number of children raised in poverty, the researchers conclude.
Conversely, when manufacturing opportunities decline for women, researchers found that there is a modest uptick in marriage rates and fertility.
According to research from the Pew Research Center, about half of the U.S. adult population is married, with prospects closely tied to socioeconomic status: Those with lower education levels are less likely to be married than those with a four-year college degree. In a separate study, the Pew Research Center found that the number of unpartnered adults, those living without a spouse or a partner, rose more sharply among the unemployed. Reduced job opportunities for men lacking a college degree could be partially responsible for these trends.
During Trump’s first year in office, manufacturing jobs jumped by 196,000, compared with 2016, when the sector saw a loss of 16,000 jobs. The increase in 2017 is the largest since 2014.
The president has also placed an emphasis on leveling the playing field for American companies, both through renegotiating trade deals and overhauling the U.S. tax code, with the goal of making the nation more economically competitive against rivals such as China.
It remains to be determined, however, whether reversing the decline in manufacturing employment would also reverse the correlating downturn in marriage rates.
Gordon Hanson, one of the authors of the study, told FOX Business that if “there was sustained growth in manufacturing employment, then … we would expect these trends to reverse.” Hanson added that he doesn’t know any economists predicting an adequate uptick in job opportunities to produce that effect.
On the flip side, David Autor told FOX Business that these trends may be “easier to undo than to redo,” pointing to a different study that showed fracking booms, while increasing incomes, bore no associated increase on marriage rates.
Higher marriage rates have been linked to a number of positive economic consequences. First and foremost, they increase the economic viability of the couple. According to a 2014 study by Robert Lerman and Bradford Wilcox, the growth in the median income of families with children would be 44% higher if U.S. marriage rates were currently at levels comparable to those in the 1980s.
Higher marriage rates are also linked to more economic success and less violent crime at the state level, according to research by Joseph Price, Robert Lerman and Bradford Wilcox. The 2015 report documents a positive correlation between marriage and economic growth and mobility, while concluding that marriage decreases the risk of children who grow up in poverty.