The state of marriage

I’ve seen lots of figures bandied about on the issue of the institution of marriage these days. I’ve discovered a study on marriage that appears to have the most extensive data I’ve seen anywhere. The primary conclusion: marriage is continuing to decline in the United States. The secondary conclusion: so is divorce (fewer marriages means fewer divorces). Another result: many worrisome societal trends. It turns out the Proclamation on the Family was right after all.

The National Marriage Project, which is a nonpartisan group run by Rutgers University in New Jersey, concludes that marriage has many surprising benefits for individuals and societies. In addition, the study notes that co-habitation (living together without getting married) is increasing. More and more kids are being raised without two parents, which is relatively unhealthy for them, and the clear cause is an increase in divorce, out-of-wedlock births and unmarried cohabitation.

Here’s where I quote the Proclamation on the Family: “We warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets. We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.”

And further: “The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.”

NOTE: USA Today has a good study on the 2005 report on marriage, which is not out yet on the web site. The decline of marriage in the United States continues in the 2005 report.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

30 thoughts on “The state of marriage

  1. Geoff, in your first paragraph, you note that divorce is declining (is it declining only in absolute numbers,or is the divorce *rate* declining?), and then in your next paragraph you cite increased divorce as contributing to the decline in two-parent households. I’m confused. Would you care to elaborate/clarify?

  2. Since divorce is mentioned as one of three causes; another of which is co-habitation (which means fewer marriages) the meaning seems fairly clear.

  3. Whenever I have this discussion with someone, there is a lack of understanding from many people on the overall value of family in society. Sort of like explaining why pre/extra-marital sex is a bad thing. There is a lack of vision on the big picture.

    I’ve been working on genealogy all week and was thinking about my 2nd great grandparents. They didn’t need social security or welfare. One of their sons raised his family in their home. That son, in turn, had a bachelor son who never moved out who helped be their caretaker. The same thing happened with my grandparents and one of their sons. Families that are close like that enjoy tremendous benefits in health, child care, nurturing, and obviously saving money. This is a common practice among the Amish too.

    As families are de-emphasized there is a real impact on all of society. We are forced to become people’s surrogate families with all of the financial responsibility and none of the accountability on the recipient’s end. My parents helped me out a time or three and there were definite strings attached to that help. The govt has no such real say and if they tried, the lawyers would line up to fight it.

    Increased poverty, substance abuse, overcrowded jails, lack of civic interest and duty, moral relativism to name a few – the Proclamation is right on the money. I see more than a few parallels between our culture and that of ones which have been destroyed in in the past.

  4. Adeline,
    If I’m reading you right (meaning correct me if I’m wrong) you imply a tie between wefare/social security and the breakdown of the family. Sure it is great for families to help each other but not everyone grows up in a happy family that has the ability to help each other. Will erasing government aid create a net improvement? What will happen to most those who are stuck in poverty cycles and the complete wealth of the entire extended family is less than minimum wage. Sure there are abuses to social programs and the most important thing we can do is teach about creating strong families (it is the framework our society should follow–as the Proclamation declares) but it seems you imply throwing out the baby with the bath water.

    Additonally, I hope my son is able to leave my home, have a good education, and have a wonderful family of his own. I don’t see much of anything good coming from giving my kids economic help with strings attached–in fact it seems a great way to insure higher net costs by way of therapy bills.

  5. Too right, Adeline. What a miserable world we live in, that efforts to help people turned out to make things worse for everybody. Sometimes when I get upset at God for living us in misery, I think ‘how can he tolerate leaving us in this misery?’ And the answer is, he can’t hardly. But he does because he has to. We’d be worse if we were taken care of.

  6. HL – I’m saying that the govt had to do it because families were already beginning to break down. Having those in programs in place now makes that even easier. How do you think the elderly, the poor, those who fell in with the wrong crowds in the past survived? They didn’t have a govt doing it so who do you think did? In most cases it was families. Then neighborhoods. Then churches and charities.

    Getting rid of those govt programs now isn’t going to strengthen families. It won’t because there is no support for the institution of families. It’s drilled into us that there is no ideal. We certainly wouldn’t want to offend anyone by implying any situation works better than another.

    Why strings are important – real life case. I have a friend who has always worked the kind of jobs where you get by but basically live paycheck to paycheck. He lost one of those jobs because he was absent too many times. He didn’t want to get another similar job because he was bored with that type of employment. He asked his mother for rent and food money for the next couple months. She said she would pay if she could take him out the next day to apply for some jobs where he’d be able to start within a few weeks. He declined her offer because he didn’t feel like wprking anymore. He wanted a break. Instead he went on welfare and food stamps. All they asked him to do was tell them how many places he applied at each week. No expectation of getting or accepting a job on their part. How convenient that was for him.

    I also know several people who’s parents provided financial support for college with stipulations based on location, grades, etc. This is logical! Support is to help people get to a place to help themselves. If they are unwilling to accept those stipulations, they will continue to need support.

  7. Adeline,
    I certainly agree with the point that to some extent govt. programs have had to take the place of the lack of strong families. However, it is also true that prior to welfare America was a harder place. Families didn’t always pick up the slack nor could they–and often other institutions couldn’t either. Thus many starved and/or lived in abject poverty. Many things of course have added to the rising quality of life in America (mainly the growing market) but govt. programs have played a role (the real question is whether they do more good than harm–a question I think that has had a different answer at different times).

    I don’t think it is logical to base financial aid from parents on things like location (where it seems the parent simply wants veto power over their child’s life and are willing to buy it). I do think it often can make sense re grades (where parents ask for certain performance levels to know the money isn’t being wasted).

  8. It seems clear from that study that people whose parents divorced are more likely to divorce themselves—but do you think the transmission mechanism is environmental or merely genetic? It seems entirely plausible to me that some folks just aren’t genetically wired for the sort of monogamous (heterosexual) commitment that marriage requires, and that they pass that wiring on to their kids, who then live out that genetic legacy in divorces of their own. (Of course, *no* humans are perfectly wired for monogamy; it’s difficult and, to a certain extent, unnatural for everybody.) It’s probably a little of both, of course, but I bet genetics plays a role.

  9. there was another great article a few years back that listed many of the benefits that marriage brings. some were pretty surprising, like less violence, and for men, better health. they did mention though that for women marriage actually increases ceratin health problems, all of them relating to stress. overall though, this article said that marriage is the best thing for us, even better than living together.

    one surprising finding was that couples who live together first and then marry have a higher divorce rate than those who don’t.

    anyway, it’s nice to see that there is more proof that marriage is good. after all, for those of us who are married, sometimes it sure seems easier to be single again and not have to worry about all the responsibility. 😉

  10. Adeline, the cohabitation stat should be qualified: people who lived with several partners before marrying had an increased rate of divorce; there was no similar increase for people who lived with only one partner whom they then married.

  11. “Adeline, the cohabitation stat should be qualified”

    I didn’t comment on cohabitation.

    “some folks just aren’t genetically wired”

    That’s true of many things. Fortunately we have a handbook with the scriptures and modern revelation that help guide us in managing our natural man instincts. If we did whatever we felt driven to do by genetics, we’d be in a literal world of chaotic hurt.

    “I do think it often can make sense re grades (where parents ask for certain performance levels to know the money isn’t being wasted). “

    That’s a string. A very logical one at that.

  12. It was said earlier that there is a lack of vision in the Big Picture. This is so very true. So many people have failed to learn to see how interconnected society is. Greed is a huge player. People want, want, want, and often put their desires above that of others. This creates an environment where children don’t want to care for others, including their own families.

    In a free market society, private industry sees this as a market and starts creating services to fill that percieved need. It then snowballs to where people expect the service, at which point government is then faced with the reality that their constituents want the government to give that care.

    The media (news and entertainment) both cater to the carnal natures of man. This pushes the envelope further every generation. Moral decline occurs and examples of amoral actions without consequences are seen, which in turns erodes family values.

    People fail to see the consequences of their actions, both temporal and social. People begin to see choices (lifestyles) as a right, sometimes even when they know their actions impact others, but mostly because they fail to foresee those impacts.

    All of this and probably more are the main causes for the decine of the family. People no longer see marriage as a long lasting, eternal institution. It was eternal, then it was till death do you part, then it was a long arduous process of divorcement, now divorces are as easy and available as a marriage booth in Vegas. In some places its even gone beyond that to why even get married.

    Families were once seen as the center of education, faith, moral instruction and support. Now people expect the government to provide everything. The irony is that people expect the media and schools to teach morallity. If the media teaches it we will have nothing but a culmination of every type of imorallity along the lines of cultural relativism. If the schools teach it, people become irrate because the state’s morallity doesn’t always fit their own, but people fail to teach this in the family, because there is no more family.

    People expect the government to provide everything, jobs, medical coverage, driver’s liscenses, education, housing, food, entertainment, childcare, drugs, fire and police protection, power etc. There is no more self sustainability anymore and we have been warned time and time again about this by the prophets.

  13. Kristine (#1), you make a good point. Please see this for more. The point is that divorce soared from 1960 to about 1980. Since then, it has dropped slightly (partly because there are fewer marriages so there are fewer divorces). But overall, divorce is much more common now than it was 50 years ago.

  14. HL, I actually have a fair amount of first-hand knowledge on the modern welfare state in the U.S. I worked as a reporter for several years in Miami and got to know many families receiving assistance. The primary welfare program, AFDC, was a huge failure. Dem. Sen. Moynihan warned this would happen back in the late-1960s soon after it was instituted. Basically, the program was aimed primarily at single women with children. Sounds like a great cause, right? Except, that they lost assistance once they got married. And they got more assistance once they had more single children. We’re not talking about a lot of money — about $600 a month for the first child and then several hundred more for each additional child. But the incentives were clearly skewed the wrong way — away from marriage and in favor of having more and more kids. Most of us would not think the way that many of these young women did, but I talked to several women who would argue that having more kids meant getting more money and marriage was never in the picture because they would lose assistance.

    Contrary to what you believe, I’m in favor of many welfare programs. I think Social Security has been a huge success, for example, (although we are sitting on a ticking demographic time bomb that will explode in the coming years unless we address the problem). The Church welfare program is the perfect model, but there are indeed people who slip through the cracks and in a country as rich as the United States, nobody should ever starve to death. But the Clinton-era welfare reforms went a long way toward solving the AFDC problems mentioned above. It may be one of Clinton’s greatest achievements, actually.

    I think the evidence clearly shows that promoting marriage helps solve societal ills. Govt policy should be focused more on this solution.

  15. Wow Geoff, this may be a first but I think I agree with almost everything you just wrote. We should go out an celebrate.

  16. oops, sorry Adeline, it was Aimee’s comment I meant to address.

  17. Rosalynde,

    I reject the notion that people are genetically incapable of having a marriage relationship. What kills marriage is selfishness on one party or the other. there are a gazillion ways that selfishness is depicted, but all marriage woes can be construed as selfish behavior: not listening, not working for the other, infidelity, etc. (reference to Pres Benson “all sin is pride”)

    And there is no gene for selfishness. It is part of the HUMAN condition (so if it is a “gene” then we all have it.) The reason that children of divorce often end of getting divorced is that they have not seen a good example of selfLESS marriage. The reason that children of a healthy marriage often have healthy marriages is that they have seen an example. The power of example is WAAAAAYYYY underestimated in our society, especially the parental example.

    Genetics cannot win the battle of choice and responsibility. It cannot rob consequences.

  18. I tend to agree with Sam (#18). I don’t think I buy the genetics argument on divorce, although I do think genetics is a factor in many other issues, such as intelligence, etc. I think the bigger factor is not having a good model of a good working relationship. Another big factor is inability to choose a compatible spouse.

  19. I find it interesting that SelfLESSnes is very much a learned behavior. The only examples I can think of where it is innate is in mothers and children. If selflessness is learned than what is SelfISHness?

    Is it learned or innate. It seems to me that selfishness is innate, its part of the condition of the natural man. There may not be a genetic code for it but if there is DNA for the soul, I’m sure that there is a “spriritual gene pair” that encourages each of us to behave selfishly.

    This is very much in line with the natural man and demonstrates how this is in conflict with the gospel. If selfishness were learned I would expect to find as many examples of selfishness as selflessness. It may be andectodal but it seems that there is more selfishness in the world.

    It certainly is an interesting thought experiment.

  20. I live in Massachusetts, where even gay people can marry. Interestingly, the court decision that made this mandatory (basically a court order requiring the legislature to pass a law allowing gays to marry) said something to the effect that opening up marriage to a pool of larger possible applicants (if you will) would help bolster marriage.

    This (combined with your comments about the decline of marriage) reminds me me of a fraternity at Wabash (Tau Kappa Epsilon) that was hard up for pledges, so in the name of diversity they started accepting gay pledges. And that was the end of that fraternity.

    Perhaps marriage in Massachusetts will now go the way of the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity at Wabash. I mean, who wants to be in the same institution with a bunch of gay people?

  21. I for one enjoy being happy. I’m a very happy person by nature. Any organization that allows happy people should only be able to prosper. No wonder marriage is under attack and on the decline. Who would want to participate in an institution that doesn’t allow happy people?

  22. Adeline: Your sarcasm is quite rude and way off the mark.

    I don’t see what’s “quite rude” about it. It’s certainly not the most polite thing to say, but to put things in perspective for you, consider this: People make comments to the effect of, “I don’t want to live in Utah, because of all the Mormons,” in polite company all the time. In fact, one reason I don’t attend the Catholic church is because of all the non-Mormons there–no joke. You’re either making a huge exception for homos or you’ve defined the term quite rude such that it encompasses some behavior of nearly everyone.

    And “way off the mark”? I don’t get the point of faulting someone because his joke does not reflect reality. Moreover, I’m not even sure what you mean by this. Is your hypothesis that scads of fence sitting breeders are now just dying to tie the knot thanks to all the gay married baystaters?

  23. Great piece, John. My favorite part:

    If James Bond were introduced today, the New York Times would describe him as a metrosexual rather than as a gentleman. I fear, though, that if you called him a metrosexual, he would make a witty quip, flick some invisible dust from his perfectly tailored lapels with his manicured hands, and shoot you.

  24. Rosalynde,
    I doubt genetics plays a significant role in divorce. My father’s parents were divorced and he’s still happily married to my father. My husband comes from a twice divorced father and a thrice divorced mother. Did I mention it is my 13 year anniversary today?
    I tend to use my parents as my example when making daily choices in my marriage. My husband tends think about all the things he does not want to see in our marriage and makes his choices accordingly.
    After 13 years of marriage, I can tell you that he and I could easily be divorced if we had made certain choices along the way. Being together and happy has taken a lot of effort. We have made the effort.
    Is wanting a good marriage and working hard toward that goal genetic? I don’t really think so. Is knowing how to acheive a good marriage a skill that can be taught? Yes.
    There is a group here in Washington (at UW maybe?) that can predict marriage or divorce by a 30 minute interview with a couple with 99% accuracy. What good does that do? Well, they are trying to target the eventual divorce couples to teach them the skills they need in order to have a happy marriage.
    Yes, every individual has unique genes and might have strengths that would help in a marriage, or weaknesses the would hurt. But, I believe weaknesses can be overcome with effort as long as a person has the desire to make the effort.

  25. JKS, surely you realize that some people are just congenitally difficult to get along with (i.e., they’re born ornery).

  26. DKL
    Yes, some people are difficult to get along with, but that does not mean they can’t have a happy marriage. Some people are easy to get along with…..does this mean they always have happy marriages? Someone can be easy to get along with, but make other poor choices like infidelity, or lack of respect, or dishonesty, that destroys a marriage.
    There are SO many things that go into making a marriage, it is difficult to have one “secret to a good marriage” that people can live by and automatically make it.

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