Is Marriage Dying?

By Glenn T. Stanton
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Pew Study: Nearly 40% say marriage is becoming obsolete.

So says USA Today and the Associated Press based on a new report from the Pew Research Center.

The Pew Report is a compilation of both family formation trends as well as attitudes of American adults about marriage, family and parenting.

The bottom line, which is not new: Americans are actually very pro-marriage, pro-family, pro-parenting in their attitudes and deepest desires for their own lives, however not so much in their general views and practices.

First, let’s look at the “Marriage is Obsolete” claim.

The Pew report itself says this is not quite what it seems. They cite the 2006 World Values Survey (which Focus on the Family also cited in its Summer 2009 World Family Map Prototype Report) that only 13 percent of Americans agreed that “marriage is an outdated institution.” Our 2009 report also found that 90 percent of Americans disagree that marriage is an outdated institution. Pew Research Center, “The Decline of Marriage and the Rise of New Families,” November 18, 2010, p. 25.; W. Bradford Wilcox, et al., World Family Map Project, Prototype Report, Published with ChildTrends and Institute of Marriage and Family Canada, Summer 2009), p. 8.

Indeed, Pew’s new data shows that 39 percent of adults agree “marriage is becoming obsolete.” But this is a general question about marriage as a social concept.

When Pew asked people about their own feelings about their present or future marital and family prospects, we see a much different picture – one that shows the majority of Americans still have a deep desire for marriage and family in their own lives. Let’s take a look at the numbers.

General Attitude About Marriage

Sixty percent of American adults currently living with someone or not yet married express a desire to marry.

  • Only 13 percent of these express no interest in marrying.
  • Only 16 percent of cohabiters – those we would assume are less positive on marriage – express no interest in marriage!
  • In fact, Pew’s data shows more people want to marry today than did in 2007. Pew, “Decline of Marriage,” 2010, p. 92, Q. 21.

Most promising is that Pew reports, “The youngest generation has the strongest desire to marry… [with] 69 percent of unmarried 18- to 29-year-olds say[ing] they want to get married.” Pew, “Decline of Marriage,” 2010, p. 36.

Sixty-nine percent of current cohabitors express the desire and belief they will marry one day.

Tellingly, 64 percent of current and ever-cohabitors see their cohabiting as a “step toward marriage” rather than a replacement of marriage. Pew, “Decline of Marriage,” 2010, p. 92, Q. 20, Q. 19.

General Attitude About Family

When asked “How important is your family to you at this time?” Pew, “Decline of Marriage,” 2010, p. 88, Q. 7.

  • 76 percent said the “most important element in my life”
  • 22 percent said “one of the most important elements” of my life.
  • Only 1 percent said “not important.”

Only 16 percent of Americans don’t want to have children, while 62 percent do want children. Pew, “Decline of Marriage,” 2010, p. 94, Q. 22a.

Sixty-one percent of Americans tend to agree a child needs a home with both a mother and father to grow up happily, down from 69 percent in Feb 2007, but similar to what it was in 1982. Pew, “Decline of Marriage,” 2010, p. 90, Q. 10. Sixty-nine percent of adults believe it is “a bad thing for society” for more single women to be having babies without a man to help raise them. Pew, “Decline of Marriage,” 2010, p. 89, Q. 9c.

© 2010 Focus on the Family.

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About the Author

Glenn T. Stanton

Glenn T. Stanton is the director of Global Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family. He debates and lectures extensively on the issues of gender, sexuality, marriage and parenting at universities and churches around the world. Stanton also served the George W. Bush administration for many years as a consultant on increasing fatherhood involvement in the Head Start program. …

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