2010-12-08 / Front Page

Georgia Family Council

Is Marriage Obsolete?
By Randy Hicks President of Georgia Family Council

Virtually every major news outlet in the country shouted it and every talk show discussed it: “Marriage is becoming obsolete.”

The interest in the apparent obsolescence of marriage came from a highly publicized survey of Americans conducted by the Pew Research Center titled, “The Decline of Marriage and the rise of New Families.”

If you care about the state of marriage and family in America, the title sounds quite ominous. And it is. But if there was ever a time to actually heed the bromide, “there’s more to it than meets the eye,” this is it.

The Pew report does contain some genuinely bad news, including the fact that the marriage rate continues to decline, as does the rate of children living with their married parents. And the fact that cohabitation and unwed childbearing rates continue to climb can only be viewed as a negative thing as well. Why? Because according to academic studies far too numerous to name, kids and adults in single parent homes are at a much higher risk for a wide variety of social harms.

And the fact that, according to the Pew report, 39 percent of adults agree that “marriage is becoming obsolete” is troubling indeed. But that response was in reply to a question about marriage as a social concept; but as you dig deeper into the report, it is clearly a state- ment about what the respondents perceive to be true about what’s going on in the culture more broadly, not about their own personal feelings about marriage.

So let’s begin that deeper dig and look at some of the other numbers. As we do, you’ll discover that American adults value marriage greatly; they’re just not so sure if others around them feel as strongly about marriage as they do.

• Only 13 percent express no interest in marrying.

• Only 16 percent of those currently living together without the benefit of marriage express no interest in marriage. In other words, those we’d assume to be less keen on the idea of marriage are actually interested in marrying.

• More people want to marry today than did in 2007.

What might be the most encouraging piece of information from the report is that fact that, “The youngest generation has the strongest desire to marry.” Seven out of ten unmarried 18 to 29-yearolds say they want to be married.

So, what do we make of all this? Well, I’d sum it up this way: generally speaking, people like marriage and want to be married. They just don’t think you and I do. And who can blame anyone for reaching that conclusion? With marriage rates declining and cohabiting increasing, it would be easy for any one of us to conclude that “marriage isn’t as relevant to others as it is to me.”

But the Pew report reveals an enduring individual desire to marry and have healthy relationships. So I suspect the real problem here is a lack of confidence – a lack of confidence in others’ ability to form and sustain a healthy marriage and a lack of confidence in one’s own ability have a longlasting marriage. In context, it appears that the continuing increase in rates of cohabitation is a reflection of people’s lack of confidence (not their lack of interest) in marriage.

A generation ago, “living together” or “shacking up” was much more of an expression of social defiance – an in-your-face rejection of the social mores of the previous generation. But given the fact that, according to the Pew report, 64 percent of cohabiters see their cohabiting as “a step toward marriage,” living together today seems to reveal an internal confliction of hope and fear.

Is too much being made of the Pew report findings on marriage becoming obsolete? Well, yes and no.

The fact is, marriage in America is in a fragile state and many have become disillusioned about whether lasting marriage is actually possible. Divorce is common and numerous children are growing up in homes without a father. Family fragmentation often begets family fragmentation. Rampant cohabitation does not bode well for healthy marriages either as research has shown that living together before marriages actually increases the chances of divorce for many couples.

However, most of us desire marriage and for life-long love to succeed. The challenge is helping couples to believe it’s possible – more possible than the culture makes us believe. The question is: are we doing what it takes to help people have a successful marriage?

Georgia Family Council is a non-profit research and education organization committed to fostering conditions in which individuals, families and communities thrive. For more information, go to www.georgiafamily.org, (770) 242-0001, stephen.daniels@georgiafamily.org.

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