WASHINGTON -- Americans are less likely to marry than ever before, according to a new study, and fewer people who do marry report being "very happy" in their marriages.
The report, released yesterday by Rutgers University's National Marriage Project and touted as a benchmark compilation of statistics and surveys, found that the nation's marriage rate has dipped by 43 percent in the past four decades, leaving it at its lowest point in recorded history.
This historically low marriage rate, coupled with soaring divorce rates, has dramatically altered attitudes toward one of society's most fundamental institutions. While Americans still cherish the ideal of marriage, increasing numbers of young adults, particularly young women, are pessimistic about finding a lasting marriage partner and are far more accepting than in the past of alternatives to marriage, including single parenthood and living together with a partner outside of marriage, according to the report.
"Young people today want successful marriages, but they are increasingly anxious and pessimistic about their chances for achieving that goal," said Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, co-director of the project.
Funded by Rutgers University in conjunction with several private foundations, the National Marriage Project is a research institute that tracks social indicators related to marriage-an area of study its directors contend is frequently overlooked.
"Nobody is focusing on marriage," said David Popenoe, the project's other co-director. "It is not in the national debate."
Rather than directly examining Americans' attitudes toward marriage, researchers have tended to focus on the flip side of the coin, tracking social trends such as the increases in divorce, out-of-wedlock births and single-parent households over the past two decades. In the post-World War II generation, 80 percent of children grew up in a family with two biological parents. Now that number has dipped to 60 percent.
Before declining slightly in recent years, divorce rates had soared more than 30 percent since 1970. Today nearly half of American marriages are projected to end in divorce or permanent separation.
These changes have ignited a national grass-roots movement to discourage divorce and promote marriage. Many states are re-examining their no-fault divorce laws, and at least two states, Louisiana and Arizona, have instituted covenant marriages, which require marriage counseling if a relationship falters and narrowly restrict grounds for divorce. Marriage education, a term that entered the national lexicon less than decade ago, has become a growing concern. …