TIME’s current cover story asks, “Who Needs Marriage?”
A surprising 39% of Americans say that marriage is becoming “obsolete,” according to a poll by TIME and Pew Research Center. Two-thirds of cohabiting couples agreed, as well as 42% of conservatives, who are alarmed by the trend, and 44% of Americans under age 30.
“It is no small thing when nearly four-in-ten Americans agree that the world’s most enduring social institution is becoming obsolete,” said Pew. However, “becoming obsolete” is not the same as “obsolete.” When the World Values Survey framed a similar question in 2006: “Marriage is an outdated institution -- agree or disagree?” -- just 13% of Americans agreed.
In fact, only 5% of adults under 30 do NOT want to get married. That’s evidence that, despite the opinion of many, marriage is not becoming obsolete. In fact, even two-thirds of cohabiting people want to marry. But after five years only 16% had done so, and only 20% of the couples were still living together, according to a Princeton/Columbia “Fragile Families” study.
What’s disturbing about this is that 41% of all births are to unwed parents -- eight times the 5% of 1960. Half of unwed births are to those who are cohabiting. This is in spite of statistics showing that two-thirds of Americans think the trend of single women having children is “bad for society,” and that 61% believe a child needs both a mother and father “to grow up happily.”
The fact remains that only half of all adults are married today vs. 72% in 1960.
And of all the transformations our family structures have undergone in the past 50 years, perhaps the most profound is the marriage differential that has opened between the rich and the poor. In 1960 the median household income of married adults was 12% higher than that of single adults, after adjusting for household size. By 2008 this gap had grown to 41%. In other words, the richer and more educated you are, the more likely you are to marry, or to be married -- or, conversely, if you're married, you're more likely to be well off.
As the aforementioned passage in TIME Magazine asserts, a particularly disturbing trend is how marriage seems to be disappearing for those with less education. While 64% of college grads are married, only 48% of those with a high school education now marry. In 1960 both groups were equally likely to marry: 72% of high school vs. 76% of college grads. Reasonably well-paying manufacturing jobs that high schoolers could get, for instance, have largely disappeared. “The college-educated wait until they're finished with their education and their careers are launched,” says TIME. “The less-educated wait until they feel comfortable financially."
The problem is, for more and more adults, arriving at that financial comfort level has become far more elusive.
In 1960 two-thirds of those in their 20s were already married. But in 2008 only 26% were married. Why? A partial answer is that the average age of marriage has risen three years to 28 for men and 26 for women. Dr. W. Bradford Wilcox, Director of the National Marriage Project says the sexual revolution is another key factor. “People have access to sex outside of marriage, and are less likely to have a commitment orientation.”
Yet why are so many are cohabiting, rather than marrying?
“Today’s couples in their twenties and thirties distrust marriage,” my wife and I write in our book, Living Together: Myths, Risks & Answers. Since 1970, 43 million people have experienced their parent’s divorce. “The Buster Generation, children of Baby Boomers, have lived the horrors of divorce and are wary of marriage for a good reason.”
It should come as no surprise, then, that of 7.5 million cohabiting this year only 1.4 million will marry, while 80% will ultimately break up.
TIME asserts that “couples who cohabit before marrying don’t divorce any less often.”
Not true. A Penn State study by Paul Amato reports such couples are 61% more likely to divorce than those who remained apart prior to marriage.
“The way America marries is making the American Dream unreachable for many of its people,” lamented TIME. “Yet marriage is still the best avenue most people have for making their dreams come true.” However, neither TIME nor Pew provides evidence to support the institution.
Ten years ago Maggie Gallagher and Linda Waite wrote The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier and Better Off Financially. It cited hundreds of studies with evidence.
For example, they report that when a Gallup Poll asked couples to grade their marriage, 68% gave it an A; 23% a B. True, 6% gave it a C, and 1% a D, 1%, F. “Nor do unhappy marriages stay that way: 86% of those who rated their marriage as unhappy in the late eighties and who were still married five years later, said their marriage had become happier,” they reveal.
“Married couples live longer,” they write. “Being unmarried chops almost ten years off a man’s life.” Similarly, unmarried women will live fewer years than married women with cancer or those living in poverty.
“Married couples are wealthier... Married men earn between 10 and 40 percent more than do single men with similar education and job histories.”
“Married people have more and better sex than singles,” they assert. Two-fifths of married couples, in fact, enjoy marital intimacy at least twice a week compared to 20%-25% of singles.
Who needs marriage? Everyone.
“The Lord God said, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:15).
This American Roundtable Commentary is a special contribution by Mike McManus, President of Marriage Savers (Mike@MarriageSavers.org)
Copyright © 2010 Michael J. McManus