I have witnessed plenty of my peers believe the fallacy that they have to get their lives straightened out and their careers flourishing – “to find themselves” – before they think about getting married. Marriage used to be the way to start adult life, but the reverse is true today; the institution is seen as the summit of adulthood, rather than the trailhead.
This isn’t just a set of personal anecdotes; social science research backs up these trends. As the Independent Women’s Forum notes, “Since the ‘60s, for instance, the marriage rate has come down by more than 50 percent, divorce has more than doubled, and single parenthood has increased by more than 100 percent.” Instead of getting married, many are just living together – a survey of Millennial women revealed that 59 percent feel that living together is an acceptable lifestyle, and a majority say having children does not make marriage necessary. Marriage and cohabitation are now equal in the eyes of Millennials.
The problem is that research says the contrary. A report from Family Scholars found the following:
Marriage not only benefits the individuals in that marriage, it also has significant effects on the children produced by that relationship. Cohabiting couples who have a child together are about twice as likely as married couples to break up before their child turns twelve. The National Center for Family & Marriage Research found that children in married households have a poverty rate of just 11 percent, whereas children in cohabitating households have a 47 percent poverty rate.
Cohabitating also affects children’s education, social and psychological outcomes. The National Marriage Project notes that children raised by cohabiting parents are more likely to use drugs, suffer from depression, and drop out of school than children from married-parent families. The organization states the issue in this way:
This decline of marriage in Middle America imperils the middle class and fosters a society of winners and losers. Those born to married, well-educated parents are increasingly likely to have the same advantages when they become adults, graduating from four-year colleges and establishing marriages that are, on average, more stable and of better quality than in the recent past. But those born to fragmented families are increasingly likely to repeat their parents’ patterns and to experience the heartache, hardship, and risks that result.
Marriage provides the spouses, and (where applicable) the children produced by that marriage, with better health, more stable finances, and greater happiness. Further, marriage breakdown is costly to our kids and to society at large; divorce and unwed childbearing cost the U.S. taxpayers a whopping $112 billion annually.
From personal experience, I recognize that marriage is not easy. To say that marriage is beneficial – for spouses, for children our entire society – and not lend a hand to making marriage easier and more fulfilling would be cruel. That’s why National Marriage Week USA (Feb 7-14th) exists – to strengthen individual marriages, reduce the divorce rate, and build a culture that fosters strong marriages. We work with any group or organization that has means to strengthen marriages and we seek to be a clearinghouse for all those resources that couples can access across the country. Check out NationalMarriageWeekUSA.org for more information – to get help for your own marriage or help support couples in your area. Together, we can make a difference for individuals, children and our society as a whole.
Heather Grizzle, Campaign Manager of National Marriage Week USA (Feb. 7-14), has been married for 13 years and lives in New York City, where she and her husband are raising four young children.