Those who worry about the state of marriage in the United States might want to read a recent Brookings Institute study. “The Marginalization of Marriage in Middle America” examines the marital status of the 51% of young adults between 25 and 34 years of age who have completed high school but haven’t earned a college degree.
According to study, college-educated Americans generally marry before the birth of their first child and divorce levels among this demographic have fallen to levels comparable with the early 1970s. For college educated American women, the likelihood of having a child outside of marriage is 6%. For moderately educated American women (finished high school and may or may not have attended some college or professional school), the likelihood of having a child outside of marriage is 44% of births. But, among women who did not finish high school, it’s 54%.
The findings indicate that this increase in births outside marriage correlates with higher levels of cohabitation, not the cultural and economic factors that are most oftentimes cited as making it necessary for couples to cohabit today. The report cites 3 cultural shifts that have changed the decision-making process:
- Attitudes towards sexual activity and childbearing outside marriage have changed. Combined with the introduction of contraception, cohabitation and childbearing outside of marriage are more accepted than in the early 1970s.
- There has been a significant decline in religious participation among people in Middle America. Compared to the 1970s, church attendance among this group has dropped from 40% to 28%.
- Since the early 1970s and the introduction of “no-fault divorce,” the jurisprudence affecting family life has been re-oriented, from being supportive of marriage to emphasizing individual rights.
The problem is that the relationship among cohabiting couples is inherently unstable. 65% of children living in a household where the adults are cohabiting will see that relationship break up before they are 12 years old. This compares to 24% for children born to intact marriages. These children are also 3 times more likely to be abused. Drug use, problems at school, and miscreant behavior are also more common among these children.
These findings shouldn’t surprise anyone. In fact, they parallel those of the folks at Smart Marriages and what they have been arguing for almost two decades.
Perhaps the best explanation for all of this is the change in jurisprudence. Marriage is now a “choice” rooted in individual rights rather than selfless love, fidelity, and trust. Where those are absent, how likely is it that a marriage or a family will be healthy?
To read the Brookings Institution report, click on the following link:
To learn about the research conducted by the folks at Smart Marriages, click on the following link: