The Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families
Why four in ten people are timetravelers from 1960.
By Maria Popova
From pop culture diversions like Modern Family to serious political and human rights issues like Proposition 8, there seems to be a palpable cultural shift in the concepts of marriage and the family. The Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families, a new study by Pew Research in partnership with TIME, aims to qualify and quanitfy that shift.
Some of the most curioius findings — which, if we were cruder than we are, which we aren’t, we could summarize as “So, Americans are still sexist homophobes who believe money buys happiness and human beings are innately evil.” — can be found below:
The Class-Based Decline in Marriage
Much of the 20% drop in marriage rates since 1960 has happened along class lines. But contrary to our liberal conceit that more and more educated young adults are choosing domestic arrangements other than marriage, those with a high school diploma or less have been the ones dodging marriage the most. The reason? They place a higher premium on financial stability than college graduates as an important reason to marry, but lower education equals lower pay within that demographic, hence lower marriage rates.
Marriage en Route to Obsolescence
4 in 10 people believe marriage is becoming obsolete, up from 28% in 1978. Even so, more Americans (67%) remain optimistic about marriage than about the educational system (50%), the economy (46%) or human morality (41%). In other words, people think you’re more likely to get married than to get a good education, live comfortably or be a decent human being.
The Resilience of Families
Despite views on marriage, faith in the family as a social unit remains strong. 76% of people identify their family as the most important thing in their life and 80% say the family they live in now is as close or closer than the one they grew up in. Unsurprisingly, however, married couples gave far more positive responses than the unmarried.
In the past 50 years, women have reached near parity with men as a share of the workforce and have begun to outpace men in educational attainment.”
Changing Spousal Roles
While the survey cites the six-in-ten working wives, double the number from 1960, as a sign of social progress to be celebrated, we were actually surprised by how low that number is. What about the other four? Worse yet, only 62% of people believe the husband and wife should both work and share household and childrearing responsibilities — which means 38% don’t. Two thirds believe a man should be a breadwinner in order to be “ready” for marriage, yet only a third say so about a woman.
The Definition of Family
Most people don’t see marriage as the only route to having a family. However, while 86% say a single parent raising a child constitutes a family, nearly 20% fewer think a gay or lesbian couple raising a child does — a disheartening bit of bigotry as we ask ourselves how one parent could possibly be better for a child’s emotional, physical, mental and social well-being than two, regardless of what gender the two may come in.
Read the full study here and draw your own conclusions.
Published November 23, 2010