A new study of American attitudes about marriage, divorce, cohabitation, non-marital births, and same sex marriage was released on Sunday, July 1, 2007. The results of a national survey were published by the Pew Research Center. A 91-page PDF copy of this study is available on the Internet.
Marriage. According to this survey, only 4 in 10 of those interviewed say that children are important to a successful marriage. As an illustration of how times have changed, in 1990, 65% of those interviewed felt this way.
The respondents were interviewed on their views of what makes a marriage work. 93% ranked faithfulness as important. [Well, I guess that eliminates a fair portion of Hollywood, if those tabloid headlines are right. No, no, I don't buy those things! But they scream at me when I stand in line at the grocery store!]
Only 12% said that agreement on politics was essential. Other ingredients to a successful marriage were adequate income, good housing, shared religious beliefs, and common tastes and interests. Not surprising, given an increase in the number of 2-income families in the U.S., satisfaction in marriage also depends upon how much a spouse shares in household chores.
Most respondents said that they want to marry. Married persons expressed greater satisfaction with their lives than those who are not married. [I suppose it is handy not to wonder who's taking you to the ball.]
Other findings of the study mirror earlier research by Pamela Smock of the University of Michigan Institute of Social Research. There is wide divergence in attitudes regarding whether there is a stigma attached to non-marital births and shacking up.
Non-marital births. Younger adults are increasingly likely to bear children out of wedlock (36.8%). This is a huge increase over statistics in 1960, when only 5.3% of births were non-marital. The figures have been rising exponentially, however. Interestingly, non-marital births among teenagers have decreased, while non-marital births among women in their 20s and 30s have increased dramatically. While more than 70% of Americans think that the issue of unmarried mothers is a big one, the Pew study reveals a complete lack of consensus on what has caused the huge increase in non-marital births.
Moreover, younger folks attach far less stigma to unwed births than do older folks. While 44% of all respondents said that it is morally wrong to have children of out wedlock, 68% of those over age 65 were more likely to hold such beliefs compared with only 30% of people aged 18 to 29.
Cohabitation. Nearly half of all adults aged 30 and 40 have lived together without marriage for some part of their life. Mirroring the results of Pamela Smock’s research, the Pew study also found that cohabitation relationships are fragile. About half last less than 5 years and most view them as a precursor to marriage. If shacking up lasts five or more years, the parties are likely to get married.
Divorce. The Pew study also investigated attitudes about divorce. Nearly two thirds of those interviewed said that it is better for children if their parents divorce to escape an unhappy marriage.
Same-sex marriage. The Pew study revealed a slight increase in opposition to same-sex marriage (57% of respondents—up from 51% in March 2006.) Those opposing same-sex marriage are usually male, over 50, less educated, Protestant (particularly white evangelical Christians), and regular church attendees (once per week or more often).
Generation Gap in Values, Behaviors As Marriage and Parenthood Drift Apart, Public Is Concerned about Social Impact. Pew Research Center. Download PDF file here.
See also: Living Together Unmarried in the United States: Demographic Perspectives and Implications for Family Policy, by Pamela J. Smock and Wendy D. Manning, Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan, 426 Thompson Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48106-1248 Download PDF file here.