Report Examines Marriage and Parenthood
Special Report - December 12, 2011
Ten factors related to a married couple’s social life and relationships, including shared religious faith and household duties, help increase the chances that parenthood will strengthen, not weaken, the marital bond, according to the latest “State of Our Unions” report. Released on December 8, the report, “When Baby Makes Three: How Parenthood Makes Life Meaningful and How Marriage Makes Parenthood Bearable,” is based on a new national survey of over 2,800 married men and women, and attempts to determine why some parents with children thrive in their marriages, and others experience less happiness after their children are born. The report is co-authored by W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, and Elizabeth Marquardt, director of the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values.
The authors acknowledge previous studies that show that parenthood generally tends to be associated with less marital happiness for many parents, especially immediately after children are born. However, the “State of Our Unions” report found that a “substantial minority” of married parents (35 percent of husbands and 37 percent of wives) “do not experience parenthood as an obstacle to marital happiness.” To find out why, the report identified “10 sets of social, cultural, and relational factors that are associated with higher quality and more stable marriages among married parents.” According to the findings, these include such factors as: shared religious faith, sexual satisfaction, shared housework and childcare, marital generosity, support from family and friends, a college degree, and a good job.
“A hybrid model of married life appears to be the best path to successfully combine marriage and parenthood for today's parents,” said Professor Wilcox, the report's lead author, in a press release. “These success factors form a roadmap of practical strategies that young couples can adopt to help their marriage thrive when they find themselves new parents.”
The State of Our Unions report also found that married parents tend to be happier and less depressed than unmarried parents, especially single parents. Additionally, married couples with children are more likely to say their life has a greater purpose than childless married couples. For example, the report found that 57 percent of married mothers and 45 percent of married fathers report their “life has purpose,” compared to 40 percent of childless wives and 35 percent of childless husbands.
Another key finding from the report is that married couples with four or more children tend to report the highest levels of marital happiness. For example, married couples with four or more children are “at least 40 percent more likely to be happily married than the parents with one, two or three kids.” The report notes that, “Particular types of couples end up having large numbers of children, remain married to one another, and also enjoy cultural, social, and relational strengths that more than offset the challenges of parenting a large family.”
Finally, the “State of Our Unions” report identified the “Top Five” predictors of marital happiness for both husbands and wives with children. For wives, the top five predictors include “above average”: 1) sexual satisfaction; 2) commitment; 3) generosity to husband; 4) attitudes toward raising children; and 5) social support. For husbands, the top five predictors include “above average”: 1) sexual satisfaction; 2) commitment; 3) generosity to wife; 4) attitude toward raising children; and 5) marital spirituality shared by both spouses.
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