While the majority of Americans are either married or want to be married someday, the number of those who consider it important has declined over the last seven years, a new Gallup poll shows, in line with a declining marriage rate in the U.S.
A Gallup poll, conducted June 20-24, found that 54 percent of Americans are currently married, and 21 percent of those who have never married would like to marry someday. Only 5 percent of Americans have never married and say they don't want to do so, while 20 percent say they have been previously married or did not classify their marital status.
Yet, less than two-thirds of Americans consider it very or somewhat important for a couple to marry if the two want to spend the rest of their lives together or when they want to have a child together.
In 2006, the last time Gallup asked about the importance of legal marriage, 73 percent said it is very or somewhat important when a man and a woman want to live together, and 76 percent said so when the two want to have a child together. Now, fewer than six in 10 Americans who have never been married but want to be say it is important that a couple get married in these circumstances.
"This suggests that a sizable percentage of Americans who would like to get married still don't think it is important that they do so," the authors of the report, Frank Newport and Joy Wilke, noted. "Additionally, younger Americans are significantly less likely than older groups to believe people should marry when making a lifetime commitment or having a child."
The Census Bureau also shows that the rate of marriage has gone down, from 9.9 marriages per 1,000 Americans in 1987 to 6.8 in 2011.
The poll found that 9 percent of Americans aged 18 to 34 are unmarried and have no interest in marrying, but 56 percent in this age group are unmarried and want to get married. This suggests attitudinal aversion to first-time marriage is not widespread among the nation's younger unmarried residents. But non-whites between the ages of 18 ad 34 are significantly less likely than whites of the same age to be married.
The findings show there is a significant desire for marriage even as the overall marriage rate has dropped in recent years. In contrast, Americans' views of the importance of being married has declined in recent years. "Thus, while most younger Americans who have never married express an attitudinal interest in eventually doing so, fewer hold the underlying attitude that such an action is important," the authors said.
The poll also found that for many Americans getting married is to some degree a matter of timing and convenience rather than necessity, as most reasons have to do with waiting for the right partner or the right time.
"All in all, the data suggest that marriage holds its traditional status as the expected route for young couples, but the perceived importance of adhering to that tradition may be weakening. Thus, the overall marriage rate may be dropping partly because younger Americans feel more comfortable in waiting to be married, even if they do get married eventually."
The poll had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.