Is the institution of marriage becoming a dinosaur? According to a Pew pole, as reported in The Economist, January 12, 2013, as of a year ago just 51 percent of all American adults were married, down from 72 percent in 1960, and the median age of first time newlyweds reached an all-time high. And 28 percent of American adults had never been married, up from only 15 percent in 1960.
Coupled with the decline in marriage a rising birth rate for single women was reported. In 2010, 40.8 of all births were to unmarried mothers. During the year 2011, 35 percent of all American children lived in a single parent home. Not only are there documented emotional and academic impediments for these children, the poverty rate of female single parent homes is over five times that of married two parent families.
However the statistical range was uneven across economic and educational lines. Wealthier and better educated Americans had lower so called “out-of-wedlock” birth rates, as well as lower divorce, with correspondingly higher marriage rates.
Given the statistics of the wealthier and better educated, there are those who support marriage promotion purely as a route to economic success. The Economist article detailed a number of weak initiatives that were designed to encourage marriage and/or prevent divorce, including The Healthy Marriage Initiative introduced by former President George W. Bush, it’s predecessor the 1996 Welfare Reform Bill, signed into law by President Bill Clinton, and a federally funded marriage-promotion initiative called Building Strong Families. Ultimately such programs were found to lack the ability to have an appreciable affect on stronger marital relationships.
Critics of marriage promotion argue that poverty is the cause, not a result of low marriage success. Creating more living-wage jobs could be helpful. However, the skeptics propose that rather than promoting marriage as a potential route to economic success, the solution is to ensure access to family-planning services in order to minimize the number of births occurring outside of marriage. After all of the lackluster results following programs designed to help couples stay married or get married, there just does not appear to be a fast fix to the institution of marriage.