Is Marriage Declining?
In a report titled The Decline of Marriage and the Rise of New Families, the Pew Research Center wrote that marriage is in a sharp decline in the United States. They reference a survey indicating that in 2008, 26 percent of adults in their twenties were married. But in 1960 that same age group had a marriage rate of 68 percent. They also say in 1960 about 72 percent of all adults were married, but today only an estimated 52 percent are.
When asked if marriage was becoming obsolete, 39 percent of those surveyed said it is compared with 28 percent who said the same thing in 1978. Adults living in cohabitation, but not married tended to agree with the view that marriage is becoming obsolete.
One attitude revealed by the survey which contradicted the apparent declining interest in marriage, was optimism about marriage compared with other elements of American society such as public education, the economy and morality/ethics. In other words there was more optimism about marriage than any of those other societal aspects.
The decline in marriage, according to the report, is stronger for adults with no college education. College graduates with strong incomes have continued marrying at a consistent and fairly high rate. Education level and income were tied closely with marriage in another way: median household income for married adults was 41 percent higher than for unmarried adults. The report makes a case for both a marriage gap and income gap, even saying they might be linked. According to their data, people with less education may put off marriage in order to find economic stability first, yet given the economic conditions presently this may only delay or eliminate marriage.
Family structures have changed along with attitudes about marriage and marriage rates. Families with a single woman raising children are frowned upon the most, with 69 percent saying it is bad for society. Cohabitation is generally looked upon with acceptance, and the importance of family is agreed upon by 76 percent of the respondents. While this fact may seem confusing or even contradictory, it actually isn’t because it is the notion of what marriage is and how it is practiced that has changed, not the central position of family in people’s lives. For example, in 1960 divorce was not common and was viewed as a failure and even shameful. Today divorce is common and seen as a practical solution to an unhappy or unproductive marriage, and the relationship that is left behind is seen as a learning experience, not an unmitigated disaster or shame for an entire family. Parents who have divorced often remain committed to raising their children, just with a different family structure, including if they re-marry and step-parents are absorbed into the family.