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Is falling US marriage rate a bad thing? Some find positives in the data.

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.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / December 14, 2011

Los Angeles

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.

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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.”

Other key findings from the Pew study include:

• The decline in the number of newly married adults – from 4.4 million in 2009 to 4.2 million in 2010 – was shared by all age groups but was especially sharp for the youngest adults.

• The decline in the proportion of currently married adults is most dramatic for the young. Only 9 percent of adults ages 18-24 were married in 2010, compared with 45 percent in 1960.

• The proportions currently married diverge notably by racial and ethnic group. More than half (55 percent) of whites are married, a decline from 74 percent in 1960. Among Hispanics 48 percent are married, compared with 72 percent in 1960. Among blacks, only 31 percent are married, compared with 61 percent in 1960.

Shmuley Boteach, a rabbi and television host and author of several books about marriage, says the trend is very troubling. He says it might be the outgrowth of much that is wrong with a capitalist, materialistic society.


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