Fewer Americans think marriage is needed to create strong families, new poll suggests

(Photo: Unsplash/Jeremy Wong Weddings)
(Photo: Unsplash/Jeremy Wong Weddings)

Higher percentages of Americans view marriage as being "old-fashioned" as just over half believe that marriage is needed to create strong families, according to an annual nationwide survey released on Tuesday. 

The findings from the 2021 American Family Survey were revealed on Oct. 12 by Deseret News and the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University. The poll was conducted by YouGov, which initially interviewed over 3,200 respondents between June 25 to July 8 but drew results from a final dataset of 3,000.

Dating back to its inception in 2015, the survey aims to shed light on the experiences of Americans in their relationships, marriages and families and how those experiences relate to a variety of current events and public policy issues.  

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The results of the 2021 survey show that only 45% of Americans agree that society is "better off" when "more people are married." According to a summary report, the 45% figure is the lowest percentage of people who think society is better off when more people are married in the survey's history. By comparison, 56% said the same in the 2017 survey. 

The new survey indicates that the number of people who believe marriage is needed to create strong families (52%) has declined by 10 percentage points since 2015, when over six in 10 Americans said the same.  

When asked if they think marriage is "old-fashioned and out-of-date," 19% of respondents said they "agree." In 2015, only 12% of respondents said the same. In the new survey, 64% said they "disagree" with that statement. 

"There is reason to believe that people are slightly growing less attached to marriage as an institution," researchers wrote in a report. "Though we would not want to imply that marriage is in trouble as an institution, there is slight erosion in its popularity."

Hal Boyd, the executive editor of Deseret National, told The Christian Post that statistics show that "people have higher life satisfaction when they marry." He also stressed that marriage is better for children. He hopes people realize that "marriage has benefits" and should be normalized.

"Marriage provides stability and life satisfaction and those who get married often have more longevity and better financial wealth and physical and mental health," he stated. 

Boyd said that some factors that play a role in people avoiding marriage are fear of divorce and a lack of religious affiliation. He also noted that teachings that rebel against religion can lead to marriage becoming less relevant due to decreasing religious affiliation.

"I think we see more religious people getting married because of the doctrinal teachings about marriage in the Bible," he told CP. "And as the culture becomes more secular and not overtly religious, we see a decrease in marriage rates. Many say they believe in God, but mostly in traditional religious circles is when we see there's an increase in marriage." 

The survey release comes after Pew Research recently reported data showing a 10-percentage-point increase in American adults who live without a romantic partner in the last three decades, up from 29% in 1990 to 39% in 2019.  The Pew data also indicated that 53% of U.S. adults were married in 2019, compared to the 64% of adults who reported being married in 1990. 

In April 2020, the National Center for Health Statistics reported that marriage rates in 2018 had dropped to the lowest point in over 100 years. 

The 2021 American Family Survey also included pandemic-related data as the survey was fielded when American families had lived through the COVID-19 pandemic for more than a year.

New questions were added to the standard survey questions related to pandemic experiences. 

"There is a hint that people are less likely to say that their own marriage has gotten stronger during COVID, perhaps because of the stress of the period. But in general, people believe that marriages are doing well," the researchers wrote in their report. "When people evaluate families (instead of marriages) the story is quite similar. People tend to think their own family is about the same, but there is a slight dip in the evaluation of families generally — down about 6% since the pre-COVID survey. While not cause for alarm, the trend does bear watching."

According to the report, COVID-19 affected many aspects of family life in the United States, but the story is not a "simple, universal tale of hardship or calamity" because "some families seemed to weather the pandemic relatively successfully, while others experienced distinct emotional, physical and economic challenges." 

As many American families lost a lot financially during the pandemic, the study shows that families already in the high-income bracket were more likely to say their financial situations improved during the pandemic. 

"The pandemic brought significant economic challenge to many families in terms of layoffs and lost income, but such economic hardships were not evenly distributed among American families," the report explains. 

The study further mentions that lower-income Americans who experienced a change in their financial situation were more likely to say that their situations got worse. 

"Single parents with children remain the group most likely to experience a serious economic crisis, but at the same time, 2020 and 2021 saw a marked decrease in the number of families who reported such a serious crisis," the researchers summarized.

"Overall, in their economic lives, American families responded to the pandemic with remarkable resilience bolstered by significant government aid. The economic challenges were felt more by those at the lower end of the economic spectrum, but significant government intervention spanning across two presidential administrations shielded many American families from the most severe forms of crisis."

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