The Future of Marriage in America

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The Future of Marriage in America

Trends in marriage, divorce, and families are critically important to businesses and other institutions. That’s because the quality and longevity of relationships have great effects on productivity, benefits, and retention/recruitment, all of them critical to enterprises’ financial health. According to public policy expert Andrew Cherlin, as quoted in an Associated Press1 story: “Families with two earners with good jobs have seen an improvement in their standard of living, which leads to less tension at home — and lower probability of divorce.” Clearly, if a couple can avoid fighting about money, their marriage has a good chance of succeeding.

While some pundits would have you believe that marriage is a dying institution, that’s not the case at all. In fact, a study by Glenn Stanton of Focus on the Family notes that most male and female teenagers say that having a good marriage is extremely important to them.2

Unfortunately, many of the young people with high hopes about their own relationships have seen their parents’ marriages end in divorce. That makes them gun-shy.

According to the Associated Press,3 America’s divorce rate started rising in the 1960s. In the 1970s and early 1980s, it shot up, a reflection of most states enacting no-fault divorce laws. The highest divorce rate — 5.3 per 1,000 people — occurred in 1981. But since then, the divorce rate has dropped by one-third, and it’s now at 3.6 per thousand. That’s the lowest rate since 1970.

What’s fueling the divorce decline? According to scholars, marriage-promotion experts, and marital attorneys, at least two factors are driving down the divorce rate:

First, the number of couples living together without marrying has increased tenfold since 1960, and the overall marriage rate has dropped by nearly 30 percent in the past 25 years.

Second, Americans are waiting five-plus years longer to marry than they did in 1970, and it’s well-known that mature couples generally make better decisions.

Also, there’s an important factor researchers call the “divorce divide.”

It reflects the fact that the top-third of the social scale — mainly college-educated, relatively affluent couples — has experienced a declining divorce rate. In contrast, the lower two-thirds — the less-educated and less-affluent — remain likely to divorce.

One researcher who identified the “divorce divide” is University of Maryland sociologist Steve Martin. He compared marriages from the early 1970s to those in the early 1990s...

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