Col­lege de­gree, re­li­gious faith help mar­riages ‘sur­vive’ to 20th year

The Washington Times Daily - - Nation - BY CH­ERYL WETZSTEIN

Amer­ica’s mar­riage cul­ture may be chang­ing, but two sta­tis­tics look about the same as they did 30 years ago:

By the time women reach age 40, about 8 in 10 will have mar­ried for the first time, just as they did in the 1980s.

And 20 years later, only 52 per­cent of these wives will still be mar­ried — also about the same as be­fore.

These two vi­tal sta­tis­tics are “pretty sta­ble,” said Casey Copen, lead au­thor of a re­port on first mar­riages re­leased Thurs­day by the Na­tional Cen­ter for Health Sta­tis­tics.

The re­port, which uses data from the Na­tional Sur­vey of Fam­ily Growth 2006-2010 and pre­vi­ous years, con­firms higher ages for mar­riage (28.3 years for men and 25.8 years for women), and pre­mar­i­tal co­hab­it­ing as a nor­mal rite of pas­sage.

The du­ra­tion of mar­riages is also tracked up to the 20th year, as well as char­ac­ter­is­tics as­so­ci­ated with “sur­viv­abil­ity.”

For in­stance, although rel­a­tively few — 1 in 5 — first mar­riages fail within five years, they are likely to be as­so­ci­ated with char­ac­ter­is­tics like mar­ry­ing as a teen, com­ing from a sin­gle-par­ent home and not hav­ing a child to­gether af­ter mar­riage.

Con­versely, mar­riages that reached their 20-year an­niver­sary were as­so­ci­ated with hav­ing a col­lege de­gree, hav­ing a re­li­gious life, not co­hab­it­ing be­fore mar­riage and not hav­ing pre­vi­ous mar­riages or chil­dren from pre­vi­ous re­la­tion­ships, the re­port said.

De­spite the gen­er­ally sta­ble di­vorce rate, there’s been an im­por­tant un­der­ly­ing shift in it, said Wil­liam J. Do­herty, pro­fes­sor of fam­ily so­cial sci­ence at the Univer­sity of Min­nesota and di­rec­tor of the Min­nesota Cou­ples on the Brink Project, which is ex­am­in­ing ways dis­tressed cou­ples can rec­on­cile.

“If we go back to the 1970s, the rates of di­vorce for high-school grad­u­ates and col­lege grad­u­ates were quite sim­i­lar,” said Mr. Do­herty.

Now “di­vorce rates have gone up for peo­ple with mod­er­ate ed­u­ca­tions and gone down for those with col­lege ed­u­ca­tions,” he said, not­ing that the new data show that of mar­ried women with a high-school ed­u­ca­tion, 59 per­cent di­vorced be­fore their 20th an­niver­sary. In con­trast, 78 per­cent of mar­ried women with bach­e­lor’s de­grees reached their 20th an­niver­sary.

That sug­gests that col­lege grad­u­ates “have fig­ured out how to ‘do mar­riage’ in this cen­tury,” said Mr. Do­herty. It’s pos­si­ble, he added, that since these cou­ples are be­com­ing “mar­riage savvy,” their wis­dom and skills could be shared with other pop­u­la­tions.

That may be too rosy a view for some mar­riage-watch­ers.

A ma­jor rea­son why di­vorce rates are stub­bornly high “is be­cause Amer­i­cans have largely em­braced the in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic ethos ush­ered in by the 1970s, and are of­ten un­will­ing or un­able to nav­i­gate mar­i­tal dif­fi­cul­ties that creep up af­ter sev­eral years of mar­ried life,” said so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor W. Brad­ford Wil­cox, who also di­rects the Na­tional Mar­riage Project at the Univer­sity of Virginia.

“The only good news is that fed­eral data also sug­gest that mar­ried cou­ples with chil­dren have seen their di­vorce rates come down since the 1980s,” Mr. Wil­cox said.

Nei­ther col­lege stu­dents nor col­lege-ed­u­cated cou­ples who seek coun­sel­ing seem to have any idea how to deal well with con­flict, said Dr. Arthur Nielsen, a long­time cou­ples’ ther­a­pist and pro­fes­sor of psy­chi­a­try who teaches a pop­u­lar “Mar­riage 101” class at North­west­ern Univer­sity.

“A suc­cess­ful, happy mar­riage is not such an easy thing to achieve,” said Dr. Nielsen. When con­flict oc­curs, peo­ple need a cer­tain amount of emo­tional ma­tu­rity and so­cial skills to ad­dress it. But “know­ing how to calm the other per­son down with­out es­ca­lat­ing the con­flict turns out to be re­ally hard for peo­ple,” he said.

Also, while money, sex and chil­dren are fa­mil­iar trou­ble spots in mar­riages, mod­ern cou­ples of­ten face stresses as­so­ci­ated with jug­gling two ca­reers — or try­ing to achieve a picture-per­fect mar­riage af­ter grow­ing up in a di­vorced home.

“You come home af­ter a hard day, and ev­ery­body has the ex­pec­ta­tion that this is the es­cape from the bat­tles of the day. But ac­tu­ally there’s kids and dishes and house­work and who’s go­ing to pay the bills,” said Dr. Nielsen. “That kind of high-pres­sure fam­ily life can lead to trou­bles be­ing part­ners, and tough times.”

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