There already has been a lot said about the Time/Pew marriage report. Only 52 percent of American adults are currently married, down from 70 percent 50 years ago. The reason behind this drop is obvious when you look at Americans in their twenties. 44 percent think marriage is obsolete. This is a pretty surprising number when you consider nearly 70 percent of 20-somethings were married in 1960. That number has dropped to 26% nationwide and New York City’s rate is almost ten percent lower. Why?
There has been a lot of hemming and hawing about the dissolution of the American family by conservatives. The Time/Pew report doesn’t support that. It’s just the idea of what family is has shifted for many young Americans. Living in a progressive area like New York magnifies this difference. Gay partners are families despite being denied access to marriage. Couples who spend their lives together don’t need a marriage certificate to validate their union. There are many ways to be a family. Even though marriage should be an option for both gay and heterosexual partnerships, that doesn’t make it the only right choice.
A changing perception of what makes a family is not the only reason the marriage rate is lower. The recession has created financial instability for those unlucky enough to begin their careers now. Married couples have household incomes 41% greater than singles. Though it may be convenient to attribute that to combined incomes of two working adults. That isn’t the whole story. The college educated are also more likely to get married. Adults can have sex, children, and long term relationships openly outside of marriage, but many still long to make it official. Singles with less educational and financial resources want to get married just as much as their wealthier, more educated peers, but it is too financially risky. Seventy percent of 20-somethings want to get married, but are stuck with stagnating wages and high unemployment.
More inclusive views of what makes a family are a good thing for society. It’s sad that the institution of marriage becoming less tenable for more and more Americans is part of the reason. People want to get married and can’t. The way to fix this goes far beyond marriage itself. Widespread acceptance of same-sex partnerships, an improved economy, and a less stratified educational system is what’s really needed. Society should accept changing ideas of family, but it needs to stop accepting intolerance and poverty.