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Yesterday over at the Washington City Paper, sex and gender blogger Amanda Hess picked up an interesting nugget from Pew’s latest research into the state of American marriage. She writes:

The District of Columbia has the lowest marriage rate in the country. Only 23 percent of women and 28 percent of men and in D.C. are married, compared to 48 and 52 percent nationwide. The rates in D.C. are so low that they lie entirely off the Pew map’s color key. The closest states to D.C.’s numbers are Rhode Island, where 43 percent of women are married, and Alaska, where 47 percent of men are married.

Hess offers two main explanations: that D.C. residents marry at an older age, and that, with gay marriage illegal in the District, the high proportion of LGBT residents (around 8.2 percent) skews the stats. Both those explanations are plausible, but they give the data short shrift. For starters, D.C. is a city not a state, so comparing demographics with states is always a dubious enterprise (a fact the Pew researchers note in their backgrounder.) But the study is more deeply revealing about nature of race and class in D.C.

Anyone who’s lived in D.C. is aware of the city’s dirty secret: it essentially operates under an unwritten form of apartheid. In general, affluent, college-educated white folks with decent, steady incomes are clustered in the northwest quadrant. Their needs are serviced by a massive underclass, consisting largely of underprivileged immigrants, African-American, and Hispanics, that inhabits the remaining three quarters. Visitors to the city rarely glimpse this side of the city because there’s little reason to venture beyond the fancy hotels, restaurants, and attractions.

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