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November 2010

Untying the knot: Is marriage becoming obsolete?

Whenever I talk to parents of 20-somethings, all I ever hear is “Don’t rush them into marriage; they’re too young.” In 1960, two-thirds of young people in their 20s were married. Today, it’s less than one-third. According to the Census Bureau, the median age at first marriage in 2010 is 28.2 for men and 26.1 for women. This is a continuation of a long-term trend that has been noted since the mid-1950s. If we keep this up, retirement homes may be the hottest place to find a mate!  

Not only are people waiting until later to marry, many Americans are not marrying at all. In 1960, nearly 70 percent of American adults were married; now only about half are. Eight times as many children are born out of wedlock than in the 1960s. 

Why is marriage on the ropes? According to a study just released by the Pew Research Center in association with TIME,  the answer is simple: Marriage—whatever its social, spiritual or symbolic appeal—is just not as necessary as it used to be. With more women working outside of the home and with less social stigma surrounding non-traditional families (including single motherhood, cohabitating couples and same-sex families) fewer people find it imperative to tie the knot.

What is interesting about the new study is that marriage is increasingly becoming class-based. Although the marriage rate is declining among all groups, it’s still the norm for college-educated adults, and those with higher incomes. In 1960 the median household income of married adults was 12 percent higher than that of single adults, after adjusting for household size. By 2008 this gap had grown to 41 percent.

“In other words, the richer and more educated you are, the more likely you are to marry, or to be married — or, conversely, if you’re married, you’re more likely to be well off,” the researchers concluded.

So, is marriage doomed to go the way of dowries and hope chests? In 1978, the divorce rate was much higher than it is today. Back then, TIME asked registered voters if they thought that marriage was obsolete—nearly three in 10 said “yes.” Today, it’s up to four in 10.

Despite the fading faith in the institution, Americans remain more upbeat about the future of marriage and family (67 percent say they are optimistic). That ranks higher than the future of the country’s educational system (50 percent are optimistic), the economy (46 percent are optimistic) or the nation’s morals and ethics (41 percent are optimistic).

Click here to read more.

Lessons from the past by a man who lived it

Former 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Nathaniel Jones

On Friday, October 29, I had the privilege of serving as keynote speaker for the conference titled From Redlining to White Flight: The History of Housing Segregation & The Importance of Regionalism.” The conference was a partnership between the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion and Cooley Law School.

The purpose of the program was to educate attendees about past practices and decisions that have led to the segregated housing patterns that we see in metropolitan Detroit today.  One of historic turning points for the region was the 1974 case of Milliken v. Bradley. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a plan for cross-district busing in metropolitan Detroit. The morning portion of the conference included a re-enactment of the Supreme Court oral arguments in Milliken v Bradley.

The cast of re-life justices who participated in the re-enactment included Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Kelly, U.S. District Judges David Lawson and Denise Page Hood, 40th District Court Judge Joseph Oster, and retired Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge James L. Ryan. Attendees, comprised mostly of Cooley law students and high school students from Macomb and Oakland Counties and the City of Detroit, were able to sit in a crowded courtroom and experience the case as it was presented back in the early1970s. 

I attended the conference to talk about historical population and housing trends in Southeast Michigan. It is impossible to look at federal housing and transportation policies and the long-term effects of Milliken v. Bradley without having a deeper understanding of why metro Detroit remains so racially polarized. Housing redlining kept neighborhoods segregated, federal mortgage policies and the building of the freeways subsidized suburban sprawl, and the prohibition of forced busing encouraged white flight.   

During the conference, I was able to sit beside someone who fought in the trenches to insure that Detroit’s children had an opportunity to live in a diverse world—an opportunity that was squandered by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Milliken case. The person sitting next to me on the panel[1] was Nathaniel R. Jones, retired judge for the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and current Senior Counsel and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for the firm Blank Rome LLP. 

His bio reads like a history of the Civil Rights Movement.  He started his career in Youngstown, Ohio in 1956 as executive director of its Employment Practices Commission.  In 1960, President Kennedy appointed him assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.  He went on to serve as deputy general counsel to the Kerner Commission on Civil Disorders which investigated the race riots that occurred across the country in 1967; general counsel of the NAACP, a position formerly held by Justice Thurgood Marshall; played an important role in furthering the abolition of apartheid in South Africa; and was consulted by the drafters of South Africa’s new constitution.

As general counsel for the NAACP, Judge Jones argued Milliken v. Bradley in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, and shared with the audience many little-known facts about the case and the participants – facts that will play a prominent role in his upcoming memoir.

Listening to Judge Jones, it is abundantly clear how Detroit’s past still profoundly influences us today. It was especially gratifying that young people were in the audience, people who will blaze our path to the future now armed with the lessons of the past. How fortunate we are to have people like Judge Jones to help show us the way.



[1] The other panel members brought a great deal of experience as well and included Clifford Shrupp, Executive Director (since its creation in 1977) of the Fair Housing Center of Metropolitan Detroit; Assistant U.S. Attorney and Chief of the Civil Rights Unit (in the Eastern District of Michigan) Judy Levy, and Elliott S. Hall, a Partner of Dykema Gossett and long time fixture in the Detroit legal community.

100 million Teenie Beanie Babies can’t be THAT wrong!

We are always hearing that trends start on the coasts and head inland.  Luckily Michigan and other Midwest states don’t always follow those trends – particularly the ones that get their start in California (although we might want to follow California’s winning ways in sports).

The latest trend comes from San Francisco where the city’s board of supervisors has voted to prohibit restaurants from giving away toys with meals that have high levels of calories, sugar and fat. If they want to tie toys to meals, the meals have to come with fruits and vegetables, and low-sugar drinks.

The City Supervisor Eric Mar called the measure an instance of “food justice,” and a way to address the epidemic of childhood obesity that is especially problematic in poorer neighborhoods. Naturally, the restaurant industry isn’t as pleased. I had to laugh at a comment I read in the press from a California Restaurant Association spokesman (and evidently, a fan of the city’s World Series Champion Giants). “One day you’re world champions” he said, “and the next day, no toys for you.”

I agree that childhood obesity is a national problem that must be addressed, especially by the fast food restaurants that vastly outnumber grocery stores in our urban markets. When Happy Meals first hit restaurants in 1979, the meals were a whopping 600 calories. Now, according to McDonald’s director of nutrition, the most popular Happy Meal is the four-piece chicken McNugget meal with apple slices, low-fat caramel dip and 1 percent low-fat milk—375 calories in all.

While I have never been a fan of fast food (although there were chicken McNuggets and Frosties in my past), I have been suckered in many times by the toys – even in the years since the kids grew up and moved out.  There have been Simpson watches and Star Wars action figures. Who could forget the time in 1997 when McDonald’s gave away more than 100 million Teenie Beanie Babies setting of a national craze?  It’s not beyond me to bypass the food and negotiate directly for the toys.

So, San Francisco…I am conflicted.  Reasonably priced, healthy alternatives for our children, and adults, are a MUST.  I would be happy to see this trend move East.  However, please don’t take your anger out on us toy lovers.  I beg you, don’t throw out the toys with the calories!