Study suggests marriage may be nearly obsolete

 A late 1970s-early 1980s family portrait.

As the U.S. changes, "family" is taking on new definitions. (Photo Credit: CC BY-SA/Iverson/Picasa)

There are many ways to define the concept of marriage. Whether it is considered an affirmation, commitment, bond, contract or any combination of such concepts, one thing a recent Pew Research Center study suggests is that marriage may be becoming obsolete in the United States. The Associated Press reports that not only are divorce numbers still high, but more children than ever are living in single parent families where that parent is divorced, separated or never married.

Does marriage define family?

In conjunction with Time magazine, the Pew group study indicates that not only is the notion of the importance of marriage in flux, but the definition of the American family is more fluid than ever. The sea change has reportedly prompted the Census Bureau to adopt broader definitions of what constitutes a family, particularly where matters of poverty and unmarried couples are concerned.

Marriage does not dominate family life the way it used to, according to the Pew group. Dr. Andrew Cherlin, sociology and public policy professor at Johns Hopkins University, told the AP that “Now there are several ways to have a successful family life and more people accept them.”

The new American family, by the marriage numbers

According to the Pew marriage and family study, 29 percent of children live in single- or two-parent families who are unwed or not longer married. That’s five times the number of such families in 1960. The big number is 39 percent; that’s the percentage of Pew respondents who said marriage was becoming obsolete. In 1978, just 28 percent of Americans felt that way. Considering the U.S. census data from September 2010 – where marriage was down to an all-time low of 52 percent of adults 18 and older – it becomes clear that the Pew findings are no coincidence.

Mercy, mercy me (the economy)

While most Americans seem to agree that a married couple constitutes a family, a whopping 80 percent of respondents also recognized a family as “an unmarried, opposite-sex couple with children or a single parent,” while 60 percent recognized same-sex couples with children as families. Economic conditions have played a major role in unmarried cohabitation. For opposite-sex unmarried couples, numbers jumped by 13 percent from last year alone. Long-term marriage commitment has declined in the face of unemployment, and as benefits such as health insurance become more readily available to “alternative” family structures, marriage rates have declined.


Associated Press

New Yorkers’ views of marriage

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