The Social Health of Marriage in America 2004
Autor: Barbara Dafoe,David Popenoe Fuente: The National Marriage Project

The Marrying Kind: Which Men Marry and Why

Executive Summary

The Marrying Kind: Which Men Marry and Why

Challenging the popular stereotype of the marriagephobic male, findings from a new national survey of young heterosexual men, ages 25-34, indicate that while men are delaying marriage until older ages, most men are "the marrying kind." Among all men surveyed, those from traditional, religiously observant family backgrounds are more likely to be married, to seek marriage and to have positive views of marriage, women, and children than young males from nontraditional and nonreligously observant family backgrounds. Among the unmarried men surveyed, however, there is a small but significant subset of men who are personally averse to marriage. Slightly more than two out of ten expressed strongly negative views about their own personal desire to marry as well as more negative attitudes toward marriage, women, and children. Compared to other unmarried men in the survey sample, they are significantly more likely to come from nontraditional and nonreligiously observant families.

Social Indicators of Marital Health and Wellbeing:

Our social indicators are based on decadal measures which are more reliable than year-by-year changes. This year, the social indicators remain about the same as last year. Overall, these decadal trends continue to reflect declines in marital health and wellbeing. The most noteworthy changes this year are the continuing decline of the marriage rate accompanied by an increase in the number of cohabiting couples; a small increase in the percentage of children living in fragile families and born out of wedlock; and a sharp increase among teenage boys in their acceptance of unwed childbearing and a slight decrease in agreement among teenagers, especially girls, that "living together before getting married is a good idea."

Introduction to the State of Our Unions Series

In our first The State of Our Unions report, published in 1999, we stated: "we hear little about the state of marriage." How things have changed in the past six years! Today, we hear a great deal about marriage.

Marriage has appeared on the public agenda at both the federal and state levels. As part of its proposal for the reauthorization of welfare reform, the Bush administration is seeking $1.5 billion to provide access to marriage education, skills training and counseling resources for low-income couples who choose to marry. A handful of states, using flexible dollars from the 1996 welfare reform bill, are already experimenting with pilot programs to lower the divorce rate or to encourage "healthy marriages." On the legislative side, Congress has acted to eliminate the marriage penalty in federal income taxes and in the Earned Income Tax Credit. In recent months, Congressional committees have held hearings on marriage.

Marriage-strengthening initiatives are underway in local communities as well. Some communities are organizing coalitions to develop a common strategy for preparing couples for marriage and for mentoring them after marriage. A grassroots marriage "movement," dedicated to helping people acquire the knowledge and skills to form and sustain low-conflict, long-lasting marriages, is gaining adherents and momentum across the country. Professional educators, as well as community and faith leaders, are adopting new research-based approaches to teaching relationship and marriage skills. Still other local groups are developing community-based assets and resources to support married couples.

Most recently and most controversially, the issue of gay marriage has commanded public attention and debate. On May 17, 2004, following a 4-to-3 decision by the Massachusetts State Supreme Court, Massachusetts became the first state in the union to grant same-sex couples the rights and responsibilities of legal marriage. In opposition to the Massachusetts decision, President Bush has called for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. In addition, 40 states have adopted laws preventing same-sex couples from marrying.

Marriage has also gained new prominence on the research agenda. After several decades of neglect of the subject, scholars are expressing renewed interest in studying marriage and marriage policy. In part, their interest is triggered by the Administration proposals to strengthen marriage. Several research initiatives have been launched to study or evaluate the impact of marriage programs on family formation among low-income couples. But in larger part, the renewed research interest in marriage is inspired by the recognition that we are in the midst of a period of revolutionary change in the institution of marriage. As we have noted in previous The State of Our Unions reports, the pathway into marriage is changing. The meaning of marriage is changing. The institutional role of marriage is changing. Today, marriage is popular again but it is popular for reasons that are quite different from the reasons that prompted people to marry in the past.

As the first university-based initiative devoted exclusively to the study of contemporary marriage, the National Marriage Project is committed to providing research and analysis on the state of marriage and marital relationships in America. Our annual report, The State of Our Unions, provides a summary of key marriage-related trends. This year, as in previous years, the publication is divided into two sections. The first section, an essay on marriage attitudes and behavior among today’s young men, reports on the findings of a new nationally representative survey of young men commissioned by the National Marriage Project and conducted by Opinion Research Corporation in February 2004.

The second section includes what we consider the most important annually or biennially updated indicators related to marriage, divorce, unmarried cohabitation, child-centeredness, fragile families with children and teen attitudes about marriage and family. In addition, this section includes a brief discussion of three new topics: What is Happening to Childrearing Families?; Your Chances of Divorce May be Much Lower Than You Think; and The Surprising Economic Benefits of Marriage. For this section, we have used the latest and most reliable data available. We cover the period from 1960 to the present, so these data reflect historical trends over several decades. Most of the data come from the United States Bureau of the Census. All of the data are collected by long established and scientifically reputable institutions.

David Popenoe

Barbara Dafoe Whitehead

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