Index Shows Marriage Health Decline

Special Report - October 7, 2009

The health of marriage in the United States has declined significantly over the past several decades—especially in the African American community—according to a new report released October 2 by the Institute for American Values (IAV) and the National Center on African American Marriage and Parenting (NCAAM) at Hampton University. Developed by family scholars from six of the nation’s leading universities and four research institutes, The Marriage Index: A Proposal to Establish Leading Marriage Indicators is the “first attempt to track, with a clear accessible measure, the health of marriage in America.” The report argues that the U.S. needs a “Marriage Index,” in part, “because for any society that cares about its future, leading marriage indicators are as important as leading economic indicators.”

The “Marriage Index” is based on a combination of five “Leading Marriage Indicators,’ defined as “fundamental, well-chosen measurements that accurately reveal the direction and overall health of marriage as a U.S. social institution.” These indicators are: 1) the percentage of adults married; 2) the percentage of married persons who are “very happy” with their marriage; 3) the percentage of first marriages that are intact; 4) the percentage of births to married persons; and 5) the percentage of children living with their own married parents. According to the report, the U.S. marriage index has dropped from 76.2 percent in 1970 to 60.3 percent in 2008. In the African American community, the overall decline in the marriage index is even greater, dropping from 64.0 in 1970 to 39.6 in 2008.

  • A breakdown of the five marriage indicators includes the following key facts:
  • The percentage of married adults has declined significantly. For example, in 1970, 78.6 percent of American adults aged 20-54 were married compared to only 57.2 percent of adults in 2008.
  • Marital happiness has declined moderately. For example, 67 percent of adults (ages 18 and up) were “very happy” with their marriage in 1970 compared to 62 percent in 2008.
  • The percentage of first marriages that are still intact has decreased. The percentage of intact first marriages dropped from 77.4 percent in 1970 to 61.2 percent in 2008 (up from 59.9 percent in 2000).
  • More children are born to a single parent or cohabiting parents today than ever before. The percentage of children born to married persons has declined sharply from 89.3 percent in 1970 to only 60.3 percent in 2008.
  • Fewer children today are being raised by their married parents. The percentage of children living with their own married parents dropped from 68.7 percent in 1970 to 61.0 percent in 2008 (up slightly from 60.5 percent in 2000).

The 36-page report ends with 101 recommendations for improving the health of marriage and increasing the number of children being raised by their own two married parents. Compiled by Dr. David Blankenhorn, president of IAV, and Professor Linda Malone-Colon, director of the NCAAM, the recommendations cover a wide range of issues, from divorce reform to marriage mentoring and marriage education. Blankenhorn and Malone-Colon also recommend increasing “public scrutiny and regulation of the fertility industry,” and expanding “children’s rights to include the right to a natural biological heritage (a father’s sperm and a mother’s egg) and the right to know their biological parents.” In addition, they address the debate over same-sex “marriage” by suggesting the creation of “forums for thoughtful examination of the various legal and public policy solutions to the issue of same-sex unions, evaluating each proposed solution according to whether it would be likely to help or hurt the goal of strengthening marriage.”

“The well being of any nation, including the United States, ultimately depends on the health of the family unit,” said Bill Brooks, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council. “The Marriage Index is an invaluable tool for all of us who are working to strengthen and protect marriage, and highlights the critical need for us to teach the next generation the value of marriage, and why a family consisting of a married mother and father remains the best environment for raising healthy, happy children.”

Copyright © 2009. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.

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