The Ongoing Decline of Marriage in America

Jan 7th, 2012 | By | Category: Ethics, Featured Issues

Over this past year, I have done several programs on the sociological phenomenon called emerging adulthood?that stage of human development from 18-30 years of age.  One of the most significant aspects of this age-group is the absence of a commitment to institutions.  One of those institutions is of course marriage.  A recent analysis of census statistics by the Pew Research Center confirms this lack of commitment to the institution of marriage.  What follows is a summary of this analysis:

  • Just 51% of all adults who are 18 and older are married in the United States.  That represents a steep drop from 57% in 2000.
  • Maryland is just below the national average at 50%, while Virginia is a bit higher at 54%.  In the District of Columbia, only 1 in 4 adults is married, while more than half have never wed.
  • The median age when people first marry is increasing, now at an all-time high of older than 26 for women and almost 29 for men.  This is in stark contrast to 1960 when most baby boomers were children, and when 72% of all adults were married.  Then, the median age for women was barely 20 and for men about 22.
  • An earlier Pew survey found that more than 4 in 10 Americans younger than 30 consider marriage passé.  Apparently this institution, so basic to society, is now perceived as obsolete.
  • Nearly two in three college graduates are married now, compared with less than half who have a high school education.
  • There is some evidence that the high divorce rate among baby boomers has had a negative effect on their children.  Therefore, the generation born during a time of rising divorce rates in the 1970s and 1980s ?say that watching their parents split convinced them not to rush.?  What parents do can have a profound impact on the values, choices and commitments of their children!

No matter how one views these statistics, it is difficult to see them as positive.  I believe that God created the institution of marriage?in fact it was the first one He created (see Genesis 2:18-25).  It is the bedrock institution for procreation, for training and equipping children and for modeling and teaching the things of God.  As this Postmodern generation is reaching maturity, these emerging adults have seen how flippantly their parents have regarded marriage and are therefore avoiding it.  Cohabitation is seen as a viable alternative to marriage, but with no commitment, no responsibility and no covenant.  In short, emerging adults are choosing to live out what they saw in their parents but with a greater degree of consistency.  Parents who treated the covenant of marriage in a superficial and shallow manner by ending it in a divorce are regarded as hypocrites by emerging adults.  Emerging adults are thereby seeking to be more consistent and honest and rationally, in their view, experimenting with cohabitation before they marry.  Cohabitation is an experimental stage, a first step, to see if a lifelong commitment is possible.  The result, apparently, is that some never marry, or if they do, marry much later in life.  Thus, marriage is no longer a defining institution for the culture.  Experimentation, cohabitation and delayed marriage now define the new norm.

See Carol Morella?s article on the Pew Study in the Washington Post (14 December 2011). PRINT PDF

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