Is the Decline of Marriage Inevitable?
by Jennifer Mesko, associate editor
Research shows younger generation values family.
A majority of high school seniors — 82 percent of girls and 70 percent of boys — say a good marriage is extremely important to them. Yet the number of marriages in America is down, while the number of cohabiting couples is skyrocketing. What's happening here?
Glenn Stanton, director of global family formation studies at Focus on the Family, explains that, in an odd way, this all makes sense.
"Young people deeply desire happy marriages and families in their adult years," he said, "but they are more likely to cohabit for two reasons: One as a placeholder relationship until they meet that someone who could be their spouse. The second is they are scared to death of failing at marriage like so many of their boomer parents did."
Stanton, who compiled years of research in a new report, Family Formation Trends and Analysis, said fear on the part of young people should be softened by the fact that "at no time in our nation's history have we possessed better information and resources on how to make marriages work than we have today."
"This can be a God-ordained opportunity for our churches to realize this unfortunate gap between what young people desire and what they think they can achieve and become marriage-strengthening centers in our communities.
"Young people have this idea that you can find your soul mate, rather than two people becoming soul mates through many years together of highs and lows," Stanton said. "Marriage is a great life, but it is hard work and there are days when spouses would rather throw in the towel. Our marriage vows anticipate days like this and therefore include the good and the bad. But an overly romantic view only sees marriage as a long, wonderful date. Anyone with that view is bound to be disappointed."
Stanton reports the American divorce rate has nearly doubled since 1960. And between 1970 and 2004, the annual number of U.S. weddings has dropped nearly 50 percent.
David Popenoe and Barbara Whitehead break down the statistics in their 2006 State of Our Unions report:
"If you are a reasonably well-educated person with a decent income, come from an intact family and are religious, and marry after age twenty-five without having a child first, your chances of divorce are very low indeed," they write in their 2006 report.