The portion of US adults who are married has hit a record low, barely half, which experts say bodes ill for child-rearing. But many see positives in the latest data and say the institution is not imperiled.
Barely half of US adults are currently married, a record low, and the continuing downward trend will result in less than half being married in just a few years, according to a study released Wednesday by the Pew Research Institute.
While the study did not examine reasons for the trend, several sociologists, cultural anthropologists, and others caution against judging the statistics superficially. They agree with the findings that many, non-romantic factors are at work – from economics to education and expanding the definition of marriage to merely delaying it – but say it would be incorrect to conclude that the institution is completely on the rocks.
Others say the decline of two-parent families with stable relationships bodes ill because it leads children to perform poorly at school, enter lives of drugs and crime, and have trouble with relationships throughout life.
“The Pew data provoke alarmist reactions among the family-values crowd who conclude erroneously that marriage is imperiled,” says Dr. Ben Agger, director of the Center for Theory at the University of Texas, Arlington’s Sociology department.
What is happening in American households, he says, is that people are delaying marriage until their mid- to late-20s, and there are increasing numbers of elderly people, especially women, who live alone because their spouses have died.
“People delay marriage because they are getting educated and establishing careers and economic independence,” he says. “These facts alone drive down the marriage rate. But they should not lead to the conclusion that people don’t want to get married or actually get married. They do.”