Loading
January 18, 2012
The crisis of marriage
By Russell Shaw *

By Russell Shaw *

Is it possible that secular liberals, some of them anyway, are starting to realize that knocking the supports out from under traditional marriage may not be such a great idea? If so, and if their next step is to think seriously about how to halt this destructive process, it will be the dawning of a new day.

The latest indication of such stirrings on the left that I’ve come across is an op-ed piece by Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus. “If current trends hold,” Marcus writes, “within a few years, less than half the U.S. adult population will be married.” And that, she adds solemnly, is bad news.

Bad news indeed, but not exactly new. The numbers have been piling up for a long time. The U.S. marriage rate (marriages per 1,000 population) was 8.4 in 1958, 10.9 in 1972, and 10.6 in 1981. But by 2009, the rate had fallen to 7.1 and in 2010 it declined still further, to 6.8. The birth rate has followed a similar trajectory, falling from 23.7 in 1960 to 13.5 in 2009.

One obvious reason for what’s happening is that people are marrying later. The median age of first marriage in 1960 was 22.8 for men and 20.3 for women, but by 2003 it had risen to 27.1 and 25.3 respectively.

Another large part of the explanation, however, is that more people aren’t getting married at all. Put the late-marriers and the non-marriers together and then add people who are in-between marriages, and you find that while nearly three-fourths of Americans 18 and older were married in 1960, the figure was a measly 51% in 2010, with the trend still headed down. (Among the college-educated, 27% say marriage is obsolete, while the percentage is 45% among those without college educations.)

Drawing her numbers from a new Pew Rearch Center study that Marcus calls “startling and disturbing,” the Post columnist informs us that the falling marriage rate “isn’t just a social problem. It’s also an economic problem.”

Well, yes. There’s a very visible correlation between marriage and education (nearly two-thirds with college degrees are married but fewer than half of those with high school diplomas or less) and between education and income. (The more education, the higher the income.) As marriages decline, the gap between rich and poor grows wider.

But even though the cluster of problems here has very real economic dimensions, reducing it all to economics while ignoring the links to cultural pathologies and destructive personal values is a mistake. Marcus touches on this other dimension when she speaks of “generational impact” – the impact on children of being raised by cohabiting parents or a single parent. Less education and lower income are part of it – but so are psychological and behavioral difficulties expressed in dropping out of school, law-breaking and incarceration and other life-destroying behaviors including those that militate against stable marriage.

Unfortunately, Marcus weakens her argument by knee-jerk sneering at conservatives “rhapsodizing about the benefits of marriage.” (Maybe good secular liberals don’t rhapsodize.) Remember: “promoting marriage among welfare recipients was a big deal during the George W. Bush administration.” Which makes it wrong? Ideological blinders like that are obstacles to seeking and finding solutions.

Catholics both share in and contribute to the multiple problems of marriage in America. But that subject requires another column, where there may also be an opportunity to suggest a modest solution or two.

 For now, it’s enough to face up to the fact that we’ve got a marriage crisis on our hands.

Russell Shaw is the author of more than twenty books, including three novels and volumes on ethics and moral theology, the Catholic laity, clericalism, the abuse of secrecy in the Church, and other topics. He has also published thousands of articles in periodicals, among them The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, L’Osservatore Romano, America, Crisis, Catholic World Report, The National Catholic Reporter, and many others. From 1967-1987 he served as communications director for the U.S. Catholic bishops and from 1987-1997 was information director for the Knights of Columbus. He lives in Washington, D.C.
« Previous entry     Back to index     Next entry »
Ads by Google
(What's this?)
blog comments powered by Disqus

RESOURCES »

Ads by Google (What's this?)
Ads by Google (What's this?)

Featured Videos

Pope Francis celebrates the closing Mass and announces site of next World Youth Day
Pope Francis celebrates the closing Mass and announces site of next World Youth Day
Pope Francis visits poor neighborhood and meets with young people from Argentina
Pope Francis celebrates Mass at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida
Denver rally draws hundreds in support of religious freedom
Pope Francis prays over a sick man in St Peter's Square
Denver women's clinic will offer natural, Catholic care
Interview Clips: Barbara Nicolosi speaks to CNA
US Cardinals press conference at North American College
Pope Benedict to retire to monastery inside Vatican City
Pope cites waning strength as reason for resignation
Hundreds convene in Denver to urge respect for life
New Orange bishop encourages Catholic unity in diversity
Chinese pro-life activist calls for reform, international attention
At Lincoln installation, Bishop Conley says holiness is success
Mother Cabrini shrine reopens in Chicago after a decade
Ordination of 33 deacons fills St. Peter's with joy
Cardinal says "Charity is the mother of all the virtues"
Augustine Institute expands evangelization effort with new campus
Bishops recall 'Way of St. James' as chance to trust in God
Los Angeles cathedral's newest chapel houses Guadalupe relic
Apr
16

Liturgical Calendar

April 16, 2014

Wednesday of Holy Week

All readings:
Today »
This year »

Catholic Daily

Gospel of the Day

Mt 26:14-25

Gospel
Date
04/16/14
04/14/14

Daily Readings


First Reading:: Is 50:4-9a
Gospel:: Mt 26:14-25

Homily of the Day

Mt 26:14-25

Homily
Date
04/16/14
04/14/14

Ads by AdsLiveMedia.com

Ads by AdsLiveMedia.com
     HTML
Text only
Headlines
  

Follow us: