New Pew poll on marriage in America draws surprising results, conclusions

Bride and groom: a favorite
Bride and groom: a favorite "topper" for modern wedding cakes. (Via Wikipedia)

LOS ANGELES, September 27, 2010 − Based upon new census data, the Pew Research Center recently completed a poll on marriage in America. As one notable result, a huge change in American culture became obvious: far fewer people are getting married than ever before.

A summary of their findings:

Marriage stats in recent years.

By way of explanation, the pollsters acknowledge that the sexual revolution, more women attending college and working, and the decline of religious institutions all have played a significant part in this change.

The poll identifies economics as the most significant factor influencing the rate of marriage over the last couple of decades, providing another important clue as to why fewer people are getting married. A likely culprit here has been the demonstrable decrease in real wages and employment for men between the ages of 25 and 34. Combined with the fact that most Americans consider financial security a key cornerstone for a successful marriage, one can readily conclude that due to ongoing financial difficulties for young men, a good man is harder to find.

The most obvious result, particularly in the younger demographic: cohabitation rather than marriage. Americans 25 to 34 are living together, unmarried, at a rate approaching 25 percent, a percentage that is far higher than ever before in the U.S.

Something that seems to be missing here and one thing the pollsters don’t measure or mention involves today’s notions of “commitment” and society’s current regard for it. Studies of divorce rates over the last hundred years years yield results that look similar to the Pew poll and the graph above, albeit occurring at much lower rates further back in time. Divorce rates show a huge spike towards the end of the 1940s, presumably a side effect of World War II including the huge rush to marry after that massive conflict concluded.

It cannot be entirely coincidental that with today’s cultural trends, seemingly preoccupied with an overwhelming need for immediate self-gratification, create a cultural milieu that has strongly and negatively influenced the fairly recent but clearly pronounced  increase in divorce rates as well as the plummeting marriage rates that Pew’s recent poll would seem to confirm.

Economic factors cannot be the primary explanation for this phenomenon, however. Although marriage rates were slightly lower during the income-challenged Great Depression than they were in the years preceding or following that period of economic turmoil, today’s marriage rate is so much lower than that earlier period that mere financial stress doesn’t suffice in itself to explain the phenomenon. Neither, when considered, do the other factors they include, as well.

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