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Time to Reverse a Trend: Marriage Rates in the U.S.

A recent report shows that marriage rates are at their lowest point in more than 100 years.

The study, conducted by Demographic Intelligence of Charlottesville, Virginia, found that between 2007 and 2013 — that’s six years — the marriage rate fell from 7.3 per 1,000 people to 6.8. While that may not sound like a lot, it represents a more than 5 percent decline from a rate that was already low by historical standards. Since 1970, the marriage rate has declined by more than one-third.

Just as troubling as the overall numbers is the breakdown of who is and who is not getting married. The study found that “marriage numbers are stagnant or declining among those with a high school education or less, younger Americans, and the less affluent.” In other words, the kind of folks who can benefit most from the stability that marriage and family life can provide are getting married in fewer numbers.

In contrast, marriage rates are rising among “the college-educated and the affluent.” Again, given the personal, social, and economic benefits of marriage, the growing difference in marriage rates between the “haves” and “have-nots” can only contribute to economic and social inequality.

Now, the study’s authors predict a short-term increase in the number of weddings as a result of “pent-up demand” among better-off Americans whose marriage plans were put on hold as a result of the recession.

Not everyone agrees: Wendy Manning of the National Center for Family & Marriage Research thinks the projections may be “overly optimistic.” She suspects that many of the new marriages in the next few years will be second marriages, and not so-called “Millennials” settling down.

The evidence suggests that Manning is right to be skeptical. During the same period that marriage rates have declined by more than one-third, cohabitation has increased nearly 15-fold, from one-half million couples to more than 7.5 million.

As USA Today put it, “cohabitation has emerged as a precursor and a competitor to marriage.” Well, given the decline in marriage rates, I would argue that it’s more of a competitor than a precursor.

And the cohabitation statistics tell us very little about the growing number of out-of-wedlock births among women in their 20s, as we’ve talked about before on BreakPoint. For an ever-increasing number of Americans, the nuclear family is, even when finances permit, just one option among several.

Of course, none of this changes the well-documented, if usually played-down, fact that married parents are what’s best for children and, thus, best for society on the whole. Virtually every “adverse outcome” — poverty, poor performance in school, crime, drug use — is significantly more prevalent among those raised in single-parent homes.

If American marriage was about what’s best for children, these truths might have more traction. Unfortunately, it’s not. Today marriage is more about adult gratification.

That’s why Christians not only have to point out the errors in our culture’s beliefs about marriage, we have to embody the way things should be. We have to provide a model that can be emulated. That means teaching our kids about the joy and value of marriage. And it means strengthening marriages in our own families and in our congregations. It’s an indispensable part of what it means to be the “light of the world.” And it’s a light that an increasingly dark world desperately needs.

Please come to BreakPoint.org, and we’ll link you to organizations that work to strengthen marriage and marriages.

BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.

Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

Publication date: June 26, 2013

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