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The marriage gap describes observed economic and political disparities between those who are married and those who are single. The marriage gap can be compared to, and should not be confused with, the gender gap.

Politics and marriage

As part of the marriage gap, unmarried people are "considerably more liberal" than married people. With little variation between professed moderates, married people respond to be conservative 9 percent more, and single people respond to be liberal 10 percent more.Married people tend to hold political opinions that differ from those of people who have never married.

Party affiliation in the United States

In the U.S., being a married woman is correlated with a higher level of support for the Republican Party, and being single with the Democratic Party. There's no significant difference between married people. Thirty-two percent of married people call themselves Republicans and 31 percent say they are Democrats, while among single people, 19 percent are Republicans and 38 percent Democrats. The difference is most striking between married and single women. Married women respond as being Republicans 15 percent more; single women respond as being Democrats 11 percent more.

Political issues

The marriage gap is evident on a range of political issues in the United Statesmarker:
  • same-sex marriage, 11% more married people favor Constitutional amendments disallowing it
  • abortion, 14% more married people favor completely banning it
  • school vouchers, 3% more married people favor them

Marriage and Cohabitation

It is not clear that legally or religiously formalized marriages are associated with better outcomes than long-term cohabitation. Part of the issue is that in many western countries,married couples will have cohabited before marrying, so that the stability of the resulting marriage might be attributable to the cohabitation having worked.

"Because we now have the acceptance of long-term cohabitation, people who go into marriage and stay in marriage are a more homogenous group. They are people who believe in certain things that contribute to stability. So the selection effect is really important. Yes, it's true that married couples on average stay together longer than cohabiting couples. But cohabitation is such an unhelpful word, because it covers a whole ragbag of relationships, so it's not really comparable. We're better off talking about formal and informal marriages: those that have legal certificates, and those that don't. Is there any difference between a formal and informal marriage? If we really compare like with like, I'm not sure you'd see much difference."

Interpreting the data

The marriage gap is susceptible to multiple interpretations because it is not clear to whatextent it is attributable to causation and what to correlation. It may be that people who already have a number of positive indicators of future wellbeing in terms of wealth and education are more likely to get married.

The distinction between correlation and causation cuts to the heart of the debate about marriage. The evidence is unequivocal; children raised by married couples are healthier, do better at school, commit fewer crimes, go further in education, report higher levels of wellbeing. It is easy for politicians to deduce - and assert - that married couples therefore produce superior children. But the children do not necessarily do better because their parents are married and there is actually very little evidence that marriage alone, in the absence of anything else, benefits children.

See also


  1. National Annenberg Election Survey (NAES).
  2. NAES.
  3. Ibid. Definitions of moderate, conservative, and liberal were not given.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Penny Mansfield quoted in the Guardian of 17-7-2007
  6. Penny Mansfield of quoted in the Guardian of 17-7-2007


  • Cited in Varian.

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