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Sinking to New Lows


Marriage rates have plummeted to a 40-year low. Couples are having a harder time achieving long-term wedded bliss. Young women are increasingly pessimistic about their chances for successful marriage.

These are a few findings from a new report released in July by the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ. The State of Our Unions: The Social Health of Marriage in America, is a benchmark study of the most important national indicators related to marriage. The report gathers together in a single source historical and statistical trend data on marriage over the past four decades. The report shows a substantial long-term weakening of marriage as a lasting couples union, a rite of passage into adulthood, a major stage in the adult life course, and the primary social institution governing childbearing and parenthood.

"The institution of marriage is in serious trouble," said David Popenoe, report co-author and co-director of the National Marriage Project. "Americans are now less likely to marry than ever before, and those who do marry seem to be less happy than in previous decades. And despite a modest decline in the divorce rate, nearly 50 percent of all marriages are projected to end in divorce or permanent separation."

Also troubling is the reported decline in teen confidence in marriage.

"Young people today want successful marriages, but they are increasingly anxious and pessimistic about their chances for achieving that goal," explained Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, report co-author and co-director of the National Marriage Project. The report also finds teens notably more accepting of alternatives to marriage such as unwed parenthood and cohabitation.


The authors note that Americans haven't given up on marriage as a cherished ideal or as a personal life goal. But the quest for a "good" marriage is becoming more difficult and uncertain.

"Standards and expectations for marriage have risen to a much higher level than in earlier decades," said Popenoe. "Fewer marriages can meet these standards, and there are fewer social forces holding marriages together."

Not all the marriage indicators are negative, according to the report. The unwed birth rate and the divorce rate have declined modestly, and the importance of marriage as a life goal has increased among young people.

However, according to the authors, it's not yet clear whether these indicators are early signs of a revival of marriage or simply fluctuations in the trends indicating a weakening of marriage.