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Pew Report: Is marriage becoming obsolete in the USA? Near 40% agree

MarriageThe Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families

Social institutions that have been around for thousands of years generally change slowly, when they change at all. But that’s not the way things have been playing out with marriage and family since the middle of the 20th Century.

This Pew Research Center report, done in association with TIME, sets out to illuminate these changes by using two complementary research methodologies: a nationwide survey of 2,691 adults we conducted from Oct.1-21, 2010; and our analysis of a half century of demographic and economic data, drawn mainly from the U.S. Census.

The transformative trends of the past 50 years that have led to a sharp decline in marriage and a rise of new family forms have been shaped by attitudes and behaviors that differ by class, age and race.

Here is a summary of the key findings of the report:

• The Class-Based Decline in Marriage. About half (52%) of all adults in this country were married in 2008; back in 1960, seven-in-ten (72%) were.

• Is Marriage Becoming Obsolete? Nearly four-in-ten survey respondents (39%) say that it is; in 1978 when Time magazine posed this question to registered voters, just 28% agreed.

• An Ambivalent Public. The public’s response to changing marital norms and family forms reflects a mix of acceptance and unease.

• Group Differences. Where people stand on the various changes in marriage and family life depends to some degree on who they are and how they live.

• The Resilience of Families. The decline of marriage has not knocked family life off its pedestal. Three quarters of all adults (76%) say their family is the most important element of their life.

• The Definition of Family. By emphatic margins, the public does not see marriage as the only path to family formation. Fully 86% say a single parent and child constitute a family; nearly as many (80%) say an unmarried couple living together with a child is a family; and 63% say a gay or lesbian couple raising a child is a family.

• The Ties that Bind. In response to a question about whom they would assist with money or caregiving in a time of need, Americans express a greater sense of obligation toward relatives—including relatives by way of fractured marriages– than toward best friends.

• Changing Spousal Roles.
In the past 50 years, women have reached near parity with men as a share of the workforce and have begun to outpace men in educational attainment. About six-in-ten wives work today, nearly double the share in 1960.

• The Rise of Cohabitation. As marriage has declined, cohabitation (or living together as unmarried partners) has become more widespread, nearly doubling since 1990, according to the Census Bureau.

• The Impact on Children. The share of births to unmarried women has risen dramatically over the past half century, from 5% in 1960 to 41% in 2008.

• In Marriage, Love Trumps Money. Far more married adults say that love (93%), making a lifelong commitment (87%) and companionship (81%) are very important reasons to get married than say the same
about having children (59%) or financial stability (31%).

1- Overview

Over the past 50 years, a quiet revolution has taken place in this country. Decades of demographic, economic and social change have transformed the structure and composition of the American family.







Attitudes about changing families also differ significantly by age. Younger Americans are much more open to the changes and more tolerant of alternative arrangements.


2- Marriage

About four-in-ten Americans think that marriage is on the rocks. No, not their marriage. The institution of marriage.








3- Family

What defines a family? The portrait of the American family circa 2010 starts where it always has—with mom, pop and the kids. But the family album now also includes other ensembles. For example, most Americans say a single parent raising a child is a family. They also say that parents don’t have to be married to be a family, nor do they have to be of the opposite sex.




4- Children

Children in America are growing up in a much more diverse set of living arrangements than they did a half century ago. In 1960, nearly nine-in-ten children under age 18 resided with two married parents (87%); by 2008, that share had dropped to 64%. Over the same period, the percentage of children born to unmarried
women rose eightfold, from 5% to 41%.




5- New Family Types

Americans view the sweeping changes in family arrangements that have occurred over the past half century with a mixture of acceptance and unease.






Source:, and link to the complete report

About Pew Research Center

The Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends project studies behaviors and attitudes of Americans in key realms of their lives, including family, community, health, finance, work and leisure. The project explores these topics by combining original public opinion survey research with social, economic and demographic data analysis.