New Research On The American Struggle To Say ‘I Do’


time cover-PS

Time magazine in conjunction with the Pew Research Center released a marriage study that has created quite a buzz.

CatholicMatch has touched on elements of it, but we couldn’t pass up sharing the Time cover story with you. The findings it shares are fascinating.

In 1960…nearly 70% of American adults were married; now only about half are. Eight times as many children are born out of wedlock. Back then, two-thirds of 20-somethings were married; in 2008 just 26% were.

So, what’s changed? Women in the workforce, for one.

[In] 1970, 40% of wives worked outside the home. Now 61% do.

And the images of family we see are different, too.

Since [1978], we’ve watched that famous royal marriage and the arrival of Divorce Court. We’ve tuned in to Family Ties (nuclear family with three kids) and Modern Family (nuclear family with three kids, plus gay uncles with an adopted Vietnamese baby and a grandfather with a Colombian second wife and dorky stepchild). We’ve spent time with Will and Grace, who bickered like spouses but weren’t, and with the stars ofNewlyweds: Nick & Jessica, who were spouses, bickered and then weren’t anymore. We’ve seen some political marriages survive unexpectedly (Bill and Hillary Clinton) and others unpredictably falter (Al and Tipper Gore).

Not to mention that between 2009 and 2010, the number of couples that lived together before marriage rose 13%.

With all these changes, Time titled this piece “Who needs marriage? A changing institution.” While marriage is undeniably struggling in America, I would argue though that it’s not the institution that’s changing, it’s our attitudes toward commitment and marriage that are changing.

As the Time piece states:

Rarely is there a bigger chasm between what Americans believe to be the best thing for society and what actually happens than in the bearing and raising of children. Half or more of the respondents in the Pew poll say that marital status is irrelevant to achieving respect, happiness, career goals, financial security or a fulfilling sex life. When it comes to raising kids, though, it’s a landslide, with more than three-quarters saying it’s best done married.

And the research supports that viewpoint. A healthy marriage versus divorce or failure to marry makes for better relationships between parents and children and increases family wealth, which would naturally lead to better emotional maturity on the part of kids and greater educational and job success.

But as many of the commenters of the Time story point out, it’s the American struggle to commit that is affecting the state of marriage (at least in part).

It starts from the time a child is born. Parents, grandparents and older siblings crowd around the growing child and fill it with notions of being anything it wants to be. Anything at all. The sky is the limit, nothing will hold them back, nothing will stand in the way of fulfilling their greatest desires.

Only through life experience do we learn that this mantra just isn’t true. I might have had the desire to be the best musical talent in the world, but if I lack the natural gift, even an intense inner drive will not propel me into the top of the charts; it probably would not even get me signed to a record label, and it certainly will not get me into the Country Music Hall of Fame. But that inner voice argues back: “Don’t forget; you can do anything you set your mind to.”

Thus launched, the American teen enters high school aspiring to be a rocket scientist, winning a Noble Prize and being world famous. Unlike other in countries, such as Spain or Portugal, where you already are beginning to whittle down your professional choices, in the United States teenagers are encouraged to try out anything and everything that interests them. Take as many advanced placement and honors courses as possible. Join a handful of clubs, play on every sports team, run for student government, act in the play. Do it all, because you can.

Because you should.

The American pursuit to do and be anything and everything translates into a voice in the individual’s head reminding the individual with every decision, “What if option B was better?” And so we keep our options open, often shutting the door on the best option to success, a healthy marriage.

Not too long ago, when marriage was more of a stepping stone into adulthood, rather than the capstone to adulthood that it is now, the willingness of individuals to commit and work through annoyances and struggles in pursuit of the American Dream and family was greater.

Time concluded that today that type of marriage is unattainable to many.

I would have to disagree. It may appear that way, as less people seem to be choosing that path. But realistically, anything is possible as long as one realizes they may not have everything. It’s this type of attitude that the American marriage seems to be lacking.

Marriage is difficult, requiring a high level of commitment and stamina, but according to Time and Pew, no matter the changes in trends it’s still “desired and revered.” And for good reason: The emotional and spiritual wealth found in a healthy marriage are far greater than chasing your wildest dreams by yourself.

As Catholic singles we can work toward this higher level of commitment needed for any vocation by following the wise words of Saint Catherine of Siena: “Nothing great is ever achieved without much enduring.”


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