Is marriage becoming obsolete?

Katherine - posted on 11/18/2010 ( 20 moms have responded )

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WASHINGTON – Is marriage becoming obsolete?

As families gather for Thanksgiving this year, nearly one in three American children is living with a parent who is divorced, separated or never-married. More people are accepting the view that wedding bells aren't needed to have a family.

A study by the Pew Research Center, in association with Time magazine, highlights rapidly changing notions of the American family. And the Census Bureau, too, is planning to incorporate broader definitions of family when measuring poverty, a shift caused partly by recent jumps in unmarried couples living together.

About 29 percent of children under 18 now live with a parent or parents who are unwed or no longer married, a fivefold increase from 1960, according to the Pew report being released Thursday. Broken down further, about 15 percent have parents who are divorced or separated and 14 percent who were never married. Within those two groups, a sizable chunk — 6 percent — have parents who are live-in couples who opted to raise kids together without getting married.

Indeed, about 39 percent of Americans said marriage was becoming obsolete. And that sentiment follows U.S. census data released in September that showed marriages hit an all-time low of 52 percent for adults 18 and over.

In 1978, just 28 percent believed marriage was becoming obsolete.

When asked what constitutes a family, the vast majority of Americans agree that a married couple, with or without children, fits that description. But four of five surveyed pointed also to an unmarried, opposite-sex couple with children or a single parent. Three of 5 people said a same-sex couple with children was a family.

"Marriage is still very important in this country, but it doesn't dominate family life like it used to," said Andrew Cherlin, a professor of sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University. "Now there are several ways to have a successful family life, and more people accept them."

The broadening views of family are expected to have an impact at Thanksgiving. About nine in 10 Americans say they will share a Thanksgiving meal next week with family, sitting at a table with 12 people on average. About one-fourth of respondents said there will be 20 or more family members.

"More Americans are living in these new families, so it seems safe to assume that there will be more of them around the Thanksgiving dinner table," said Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew Research Center.

The changing views of family are being driven largely by young adults 18-29, who are more likely than older generations to have an unmarried or divorced parent or have friends who do. Young adults also tend to have more liberal attitudes when it comes to spousal roles and living together before marriage, the survey found.

But economic factors, too, are playing a role. The Census Bureau recently reported that opposite-sex unmarried couples living together jumped 13 percent this year to 7.5 million. It was a sharp one-year increase that analysts largely attributed to people unwilling to make long-term marriage commitments in the face of persistent unemployment.

Beginning next year, the Census Bureau will publish new, supplemental poverty figures that move away from the traditional concept of family as a husband and wife with two children. It will broaden the definition to include unmarried couples, such as same-sex partners, as well as foster children who are not related by blood or adoption.

Officials say such a move will reduce the number of families and children who are considered poor based on the new supplemental measure, which will be used as a guide for federal and state agencies to set anti-poverty policies. That's because two unmarried partners who live together with children and work are currently not counted by census as a single "family" with higher pooled incomes, but are officially defined as two separate units — one being a single parent and child, the other a single person — who aren't sharing household resources.

"People are rethinking what family means," Cherlin said. "Given the growth, I think we need to accept cohabitation relationships as a basis for some of the fringe benefits offered to families, such as health insurance."

Still, the study indicates that marriage isn't going to disappear anytime soon. Despite a growing view that marriage may not be necessary, 67 percent of Americans were upbeat about the future of marriage and family. That's higher than their optimism for the nation's educational system (50 percent), economy (46 percent) or its morals and ethics (41 percent).

And about half of all currently unmarried adults, 46 percent, say they want to get married. Among those unmarried who are living with a partner, the share rises to 64 percent.

Other findings:

_About 34 percent of Americans called the growing variety of family living arrangements good for society, while 32 percent said it didn't make a difference and 29 percent said it was troubling.

_About 44 percent of people say they have lived with a partner without being married; for 30-to-49-year-olds, that share rose to 57 percent. In most cases, those couples said they considered cohabitation as a step toward marriage.

_About 62 percent say that the best marriage is one where the husband and wife both work and both take care of the household and children. That's up from 48 percent who held that view in 1977.

The Pew study was based on interviews with 2,691 adults by cell phone or landline from Oct. 1-21. The survey has a total margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points, larger for subgroups. Pew also analyzed 2008 census data, and used surveys conducted by Time magazine to identify trends from earlier decades.

___

Online:

http://pewsocialtrends.org

http://www.time.com/marriage

MOST HELPFUL POSTS

Amie - posted on 11/18/2010

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I think there will be more than a couple women on here who will be offended by the implication that their relationships mean less (or will not last as long) just because they chose not to get married.

Amie - posted on 11/18/2010

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Relationships are a private thing. How one chooses to define their own has no bearing on other couples.

My husband and I chose to get married. Nothing's changed, most of the time we forget to wear our rings. We don't see the need to show it off though either, the people who matter were there on that day. They know us, know we are married and I am not bothered if people think we are still only living together.

Our marriage is about us, not about everyone else.

Just as any relationship is that does not involve marriage.

Marriage may be becoming obsolete but it doesn't bother me. We chose this step. This is for us.

Johnny - posted on 11/20/2010

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For myself, marriage is not obsolete. I personally do not think that anything becomes obsolete for society until almost no one requires or desire it. In our life, being married is important to us and helps to define what our relationship is now vs. what it was in the past. For us, it holds us together as a family. Legality or religious recognition is not necessarily a part of that, but how my husband and I choose to view our union. I do not think that marriage is necessary for all people to feel that way, but for many, it is. Until that changes, I think marriage will continue to be popular.

Other people's feelings towards marriage, actions towards their own marriages, etc. does not effect mine. Our marriage & our vows are unique to us. What could be a deal-breaker for our marriage is an important piece in someone else's.

Many people seem to feel that marriage for all is what their own personal definition of marriage is. For example, whenever open marriage is discussed, many people claim that there is no point in those people having a marriage or that it isn't a "real" marriage. The time has passed that we are all following the same "book" on these issues. I think as a society we need to learn to allow people to define their lives for themselves.

Erin - posted on 11/19/2010

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Couples choose to make marriage important or obsolete for themselves. It is a personal decision based on a lot of things, and is nobody else's business. Some of you feel being married makes your relationship stronger or better, and that's your perogative. But imposing those values on other people's lives and relationships is unfair and a tad close-minded .

Stifler's - posted on 11/18/2010

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I am married. Our marriage was only to declare our commitment in front of others and God and the law and change my last name, we had already committed our lives to each other when we had kids and moved in together. People now regard marriage as a piece of paper or a formality and no it wasn't always. It used to be the next step in commitment instead of having joint property and kids being more important. People live together without marriage, they have kids without marriage, they buy houses and cars together without marriage, they take half of the assets without marriage. Marriage doesn't actually change anything besides your last name anymore.

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Stifler's - posted on 11/20/2010

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We got married for us and for fun but it didn't change our relationship and can't fix a relationship and won't make a relationship stronger, people do that.

Sal - posted on 11/19/2010

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i didn't get married for religious reasons or for our kids, it was actually for my husband and i, when we decided to marry we didn't think kids were on our agenda and it really was the one thing we wanted, he proposed after we had been dating only a few months, we just felt it was right and different to any other realationship we had had. I didn't marry my 1st sons dad, we were going to but i just coulndn't, the thing about getting married it really maked you assess things, i couldn't stand i n front of people and say i loved him, and the thought of being with him forever was more than i could bare.... with my husband i was exausted, breast feeding a 3 month old and planned the wedding in less than 6 weeks and i was estatic.

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It depends on the persons reasons for getting married. Most peole don't marry for financial reasons. Most people who get married do it for religious reasons or because they want to. I can't see it becoming obsolete because many people still have personal reasons for wanting to marry.

Lacye - posted on 11/19/2010

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the father of my daughter and I are in a relationship but we are not married, yet. I don't think marriage is obsolete but I do think that just because you have a child with a person does not mean you automatically have to marry them. that is part of the reason why, or at least this is my opinion, divorce rate is as high as it is. people used to force their kids to get married if they got pregnant, and the people got sick of each other and divorced. Marriage to me is sacred. It's a life time thing. Till death do you part. and if my bf decides he doesn't want to be married to me after we get married, well, one of us is just gonna have to die and it's not gonna be me! j/k lol

Amie - posted on 11/19/2010

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My kids are still emotionally secure. That message comes from my husband and I. Even before we were married they knew they could count on both of us, together or apart.

Any relationship is still easy to walk away from if a person chooses too, with marriage it just means you're going to be paying more to do so than if the couple were just living together.

Tracey - posted on 11/19/2010

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Being married gives my kids more emotional security, it reassures them that we are not going to split up, whereas before we were married they felt it was easier for one of us to walk away.

Sal - posted on 11/18/2010

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i do think there is a difference, it is the difference between doing something and doing nothing, it seems funny that marrige is becoming less sacred, the divorce rate is rising and living togther is so accepted it isn't even thought of anymore, but weddings are becomming such huge events, tv is over run with wedding shows, wedding planners are turning the day to weeklong sideshows , it some times seems the marriages are over before the couple get them paid off, i was reading an artical that said the average wedding in aus is costing something like 30 grand, maybe that is why people are put off, a huge debt before they even start....i am married and it really means the world to me, my wedding was small and low cost, and perfect. I feel that if marriage was nothing different to living together more people get married, i know that children and comitment are in long term reationahips, but if it wasn't different why not do it, and if it wasn't different gays woudn't be fighting for the right to and the conservatives wouldn't saying they couldn't.

Katherine - posted on 11/18/2010

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I agree. It's not "sacred" anymore. It is just a piece of paper. People don't seem to need it anymore to be a family or move in, or commit. Just my opinion.

Bonnie - posted on 11/18/2010

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I have to say, it is kinda sad how much the views of marriage have changed over the years. It doesn't really mean all that much to some people anymore.

Konda - posted on 11/18/2010

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Yes, marriage is becoming obsolete, lots of people, mostly younger people(no offense) chose to live together, and say they don't need a piece of paper. Also people walk out on marriages over the smallest things, it is silly to marry to me if it is not for life. Yes, there are some exceptions(abuse, ect). My husband cheated, I didn't walk out, and no I don't think I just let him walk on me, he slept an another room for months until I was ready, we sought counseling from my priest, and we worked on what was wrong in our marriage, people don't want to take the good with the bad these days, they want the glitter and glam, but marriage is not all that, marriage is tough, and it take a lot to make one work. Mine is still not perfect, and the trust is a long way away, but we are working on it. I think it is a shame to see people marry 3-4-5 times, why bother, I can see one mistake, but after that why sign the papers?

Heather - posted on 11/18/2010

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Only people who disrespect and dishonor the institution of marriage can destroy it. Just because the definition of a family may change doesn't make marriage obsolete. I do think there are a lot of people out there who wish marriage would become obsolete so they can justify the way they live or their reasons for not marrying. Everyone has the right to choose to marry or not, but it's a bit insulting to those of us who choose to marry to call it obsolete. Really? My marriage means nothing because so many others are divorced or unmarried? That's BS.

Stifler's - posted on 11/18/2010

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Haha. The institution of marriage has been destroyed, so I think it is obsolete.

Cassie - posted on 11/18/2010

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In regards to others, it doesn't make a difference to me whether you are married or not; you're still a family.

For me personally, marriage is absolutely important in defining my family and my love for my husband.

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