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Why falling marriage rates are bad for the culture
Scripps Howard News Service


October 27, 2006

"Danger: Watch out for Falling Trend in Married Households," or so should have read the recent headlines announcing a stunning statistic: The American Community Survey, a report from the U.S. Census Bureau, revealed that for the first time in America's history a (ital) minority (end ital) of America's households are now headed by traditionally married couples, with or without children.

While just a few decades ago 75 percent of all households in the Unites States were headed by married couples, that figure has been declining for decades and now stands at just under 50 percent. The rest consist of single heads of households (like yours truly), singles, couples living together without being married, gay couples and so on.

Most adults still want to get married, and most eventually will. Still, the decline in overall marriage rates is important.

That's because the traditional institution of marriage civilizes men, protects women and children, and provides stability to the community. (Gasp ... snort ... hurl my liberal friends are saying about now, but before gagging too loudly they should check out the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, or the Institute for American Values in New York City, and the vast sociological data they provide that backs up the common sense on the matter.)

Anyway, just because each marriage does not do this is irrelevant to what marriage was designed to do and in fact, typically does.

So the question is, are we at a tipping point yet when it comes to whether or not we as a culture value and sustain marriage? That's a crucial question even for those living outside of marriage. For instance, I may be raising my kids on my own but they still derive huge benefits, including safety, community stability, male and family role modeling and more from living in the neighborhood we do in which marriage rates are extremely high.

If more and more kids aren't getting that either in their own homes or in their neighborhoods or larger communities, the negative cascading effect is and will be profound.

So what' going on? Here's one part of the puzzle - another report titled "Why Men Won't Commit," part of the "State of Our Unions" series from the National Marriage Project. (While recently reported at, the study is from 2002.)

Anyway, I saw the headline and it was so easy to guess the first several reasons before even glancing at them. Sure enough the study of younger men, age 25-33, showed that:

- Men can get sex without marriage more easily than in times past.


- Men can enjoy the benefits of having a wife by cohabiting rather than marrying.

Double duh. (Oh, yeah, thanks feminist foremothers.)

- Men fear that marriage will require too many changes and compromises. (Um yeah. It's supposed to.)

-Men savor their freedom to enjoy late nights out and freedom from extra financial burdens.

Um, please refer to. "marriage civilizes men."

- Men face few social pressures to marry.

Marriage used to be a sign of maturity, connecting with the community, providing stability for themselves and others. Now we encourage men in particular, but women too, to engage in an extended adolescence instead.

- Men want to enjoy a single life as long as they can.

Here we go, drum roll please.- men enjoy the freedom of not having to be responsible to anyone else. Triple duh?

Dropping marriage rates, and the younger men who seem to be championing that trend (with a whole generation of complicit women, reluctant or otherwise) are perhaps a symptom, not a cause, of a much larger problem our society faces: Think, Peter Pan meets It's All About Me.

Ouch. It doesn't bode well for the culture.

Look, I' love to do my own small part for the declining marriage rates and get married again myself. (But one girl can only do so much!)

To reverse this trend, our culture as a whole has to value marriage precisely by emphasizing that marriage is not all about me, it's a calling to be about others and (ital) that's (end ital) the place to find real joy and satisfaction, anyway.

But sadly that sure is a tough sell in an "all about me" age. And that's why the signs here point to "Danger Ahead" for our culture.


Betsy Hart is the author of "It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of
Pushover Parenting is Hurting Our Kids -- and What to Do About It."
She can be reached at or
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Scripps Howard News Service,

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