Mar­riage and fam­ily, circa 2006

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

As the year draws to a close, the Na­tional Mar­riage Project’s “State of Our Unions 2006” ex­am­i­na­tion of the state of mar­riage in Amer­ica to­day re­veals a mixed pic­ture. Sev­eral of the worst trends of the 1960s and 1970s ap­pear to have abated — with some even be­gin­ning a re­verse — but the most im­por­tant trend, the pro­por­tion of mar­ried Amer­i­cans, con­tin­ues to de­cline. So do some im­por­tant oth­ers.

The neg­a­tive trends in­clude a rise in births to un­mar­ried women, a rise in the num­ber of sin­gle-par­ent house­holds, a de­cline in at­ti­tudes fa­vor­able to mar­riage and the per­sis­tence of a his­tor­i­cally low fer­til­ity rate which, though im­prov­ing slightly, is still be­low re­place­ment level.

● In to­tal, 55 per­cent of all per­sons over the age of 15 were mar­ried, down from 57.9 per­cent in 2000. Six years ago there were 46.5 mar­riages per thou­sand in the United States; by 2004, that num­ber had fallen to 40.2. Break­ing the num­bers down by eth­nic and racial group­ing shows an­other dis­cour­ag­ing trend, an even steeper de­cline in mar­riage among black Amer­i­cans. Only 37.9 per­cent of black men are mar­ried and 30.2 per­cent of women, down from 42.8 and 36.2 per­cent re­spec­tively in 2000.

● The per­cent­age of chil­dren in house­holds with two par­ents con­tin­ues to fall. In 2006, 69 per­cent of all chil­dren un­der the age of 18 lived with both par­ents. That num­ber is now 67 per­cent in the most cur­rent data (2004). The per­cent­age of live births to un­mar­ried women in­creased at an even greater pace: From 33.2 per­cent in 2000 to 35.7 in 2004.

● The loss of “child-cen­tered­ness.” One of the most trou­bling find­ings is the rise of at­ti­tudes highly dis­fa­vor­able of mar­ried par­ent­hood. “[L]ife with chil­dren is ex­pe­ri­enced as a dis­rup­tion in the life course rather than one of its defin­ing pur­poses,” the au­thors write. “[I]t is life be­fore and af­ter chil­dren that Amer­i­can cul­ture now por­trays as the most sat­is­fy­ing years of adult­hood.” Not all the news is bad. ● Di­vorce is now on a slight de­cline. There were 17.9 di­vorces per thou­sand in 2004, down from 18.8 in 2000 and an all­time high of 22.6 in 1980. As of 2005, the per­cent­age of Amer­i­cans who are di­vorced has be­gun to level off for the first time since the 1950s. Be­tween 9 per­cent and 10 per­cent of all Amer­i­cans age 15 and older are di­vorced — which is still sub­stan­tially higher than in re­cent decades but ends a long pe­riod of rapid wors­en­ing.

● Fer­til­ity rates are ris­ing. As dis­tinct from Europe, where na­tive-born pop­u­la­tions are not re­pro­duc­ing even close to re­place­ment rates, the United States is re­vers­ing the trend. The most re­cent fer­til­ity rate (2004) is 66.3 births per thou­sand, up from 65.9 in 2000, a his­tor­i­cal low. This num­ber is barely half the 1960 level (118.0) but is no­table be­cause it re­verses a 50-year de­cline.

This mixed pic­ture can be read in vary­ing ways. But the bot­tom line is that the per­cent­age of mar­ried Amer­i­cans — that in­di­ca­tor of fa­mil­ial sta­bil­ity and child well-be­ing — con­tin­ues to drop.

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