There’s not much to add to the specific embarrassment and evisceration to which Matt Yglesias subjects this loathsome David Brooks column over the nexus of arrogance, lack of self-awareness, self-righteousness, and callousness that is his blathering on marriage. But Yglesias does touch on something broader worth elucidating.
In basic econometrics practice there is something called an “interaction term” that can be very very important. Without getting too much into jargon or technical stuff, the basic idea is that you are trying to isolate the effect that two or more different things have when they are combined from the effect each has when they are separate. The interaction term is what isolates and captures that difference. Sometimes, they show that the effect of one thing – say, the effect of marriage on income – is very different depending on the other thing – say, gender. Men might make more money if they get married, women might make less.
My guess is that life is full of these interaction terms, and that poverty is a really, really big one, and therefore the effects of almost everything are different on poor people. When rich parents get divorced, it is emotionally miserable for everyone. When poor parents get divorced, it is emotionally miserable for everyone and can entail substantial economic dislocations and suffering. But the solution isn’t to remain in an unhappy marriage for financial reasons. The solution is to ameliorate financial hardship so people don’t feel trapped in unhappy marriages.