Doing three things will keep you out of poverty in this country, observes William Galston, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton. Finish high school. Wait until you’re at least 20 years old to get married. Wait until you’re married to have children.
Britain’s Prince William and the woman who on Friday will become his wife, Kate Middleton, don’t live in this country. And it’s a rock-solid bet that neither of them will ever live in poverty.
But, oh, how I hope their (mostly) by-the-numbers progression from school to courtship to marriage could set an example for any of their American cousins in danger of failing Galston’s guidelines.
Our culture more than celebrates celebrities. Americans don’t merely consume vast amounts of movies and music, news and gossip, made by celebrities. We emulate them as people: celebrity hairstyles, celebrity fashion, celebrity diets.
And royalty — particularly, for these United States, the British royals — are the original celebrities.
The British press seems amused that the royal wedding has been bigger news on this side of the pond. Nielsen reported Monday that, during the past month, the impending nuptials made up twice as large a share of the news in traditional U.S. media as in the United Kingdom. Millions of Americans are expected to rise before dawn to watch Friday’s ceremony live.
If the any of the viewers, especially any young men and women, come away with a renewed sense of respect for the institution of marriage, then the saturation of coverage and early wake-ups may have been worth it.
Would that the institution of marriage in America didn’t need a boost from the institution of the monarchy in Britain. But the royal couples of Hollywood by and large have been poor advertisements for tradition in love and marriage. And the data suggest we need inspiration from somewhere.
Among the states, only Hawaii had a higher marriage rate in 2009 than in 1990, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Georgia, the rate fell by 37 percent during those years.
The percentage of unmarried Americans has been rising for more than four decades after falling during most of the preceding seven. One bit of good news: The divorce rate fell steadily during the 2000s.
Children are bearing the brunt of our turn from tradition. Since 1981, when William’s parents, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, were married, the proportion of American births out of wedlock has more than doubled (see page 11 of the PDF) — to more than 40 percent of all births in 2009 (see page 5 of the PDF).
Overall, one in four American children is being raised by a single parent. That figure is 10 percentage points higher than the average for all industrialized countries, according to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Remember what Galston said about marriage, kids and poverty? In 2009, a household headed by a single mother was five times as likely as a two-parent home to be in poverty. Poverty was three times as likely for a single father and his kids as for a two-parent home.
Wishing for help from Britain’s royals comes with its pitfalls. There is, of course, no telling whether their marriage will be more successful than that of William’s parents. And how many little girls, having seen the spectacle that was Charles and Diana’s ceremony, grew up wanting a grand wedding as much or more than a marriage?
But, given the poor example set for today’s kids by their own celebrities, not to mention their elders, any better role models are welcome. Here’s to many years of Britain’s future king and queen being just that.
– By Kyle Wingfield