Christianity Today: Marriage in Obsolescence
Why recent headlines on marriage don't do the new Pew survey justice.
... To be fair, marriage and family trends have been headed in the wrong direction for some time. From a family- and marital-health perspective, almost every positive indicator that should be up is down and nearly every one that should be down is up. Only the divorce rate has stabilized, which isn't saying too much given that it's close to 40 percent.
Still, to suggest that marriage is on the verge of obsolescence doesn't quite square with the opinions of the very people who account for its future standing.
According to the Pew survey, 60 percent of American adults currently living with a significant other and not yet married desire to eventually wed. Conversely, only 16% of these individuals express no interest at all in tying the knot. In fact, Pew's data shows that more want to marry today than did in 2007.
Put bluntly and more colorfully, more Americans believe the sun revolves around the earth (18 percent) than say they have absolutely no desire to ever marry (13 percent). (A much larger number of us often think both the sun and the earth revolve around us!)
When it comes to overall attitudes about family, 76 percent of the respondents indicated that their own family was "the most important element" in life, while 22 percent said it was "one of the most import elements."
This is all very good news, but there remains a nagging question: why is there such a drastic disconnect or disparity between what people think and say they believe about the sacred institution - compared to how they act and behave?
It is not a modern development that people don't always act in accordance with their stated beliefs. Colonial America was rife with cohabitation. In his book, Sexual Revolution in Early America, Richard Godbeer quotes a clergyman who was appalled at the prevalence of sex outside marriage in the province of New York in 1695. Upon reflection on his visit there he wrote, "many couples live[d] together without ever being married in any manner of way" and in doing so, engaged in "ante-nuptial fornication" which was "not looked upon as any scandal or sin." ...
... In other words, when it comes to the matter of marriage, most people want to get married, but for any number of reasons—pessimism, fear, perceived convenience—many of them do not. Nevertheless, that they want to marry at all is a significant and positive sign.
God has built into every human being a desire for companionship and a craving to love and be loved. There are compelling reasons to marry and stay married. In study after study, married people are reported to live longer and enjoy greater overall health and sexual satisfaction. Married people are more likely to remain financially solvent. Those who marry and remain married also express a greater sense of contentment in nearly every aspect of life.
A committed marriage is also the best environment in which to raise and nurture children. When mom and dad share the responsibilities and challenges of parenthood, kids are happier, healthier, and more emotionally and spiritually stable. Conversely, children born outside of marriage are more likely to grow up in poverty and score lower on almost every measure of physical and mental health. ...