While society as a whole devalues marriage, popular opinion polls seem to show that individuals still desire married life.
Thursday's headlines on the recent Pew Research Center poll on marriage and family asked, "Is marriage obsolete?" and "Why is marriage good?" Some headlines concluded "Singles not wedded to weddings," and "Fewer getting married as people say it's obsolete." However, Focus on the Family Vice President of Communications Gary Schneeberger says these headlines are only telling part of the story.
"Our first reactionary focus to the headlines, [to the] story that was out on USA Today and the Associated Press was [this is] just a reminder of just how dangerous it can be to base an entire story or at least a headline of a story on one little part of a poll," he warned.
The major headlines have zeroed in on new polling which showed the 39 percent of respondents felt that marriage was obsolete. However, Schneeberger pointed out that 67 percent of respondents to the same poll answered that they were optimistic about the institution of marriage.
He explained the conflicting messages this way: "[People] recognize society does not value marriage as it should, but they personally certainly desire it."
Schneeberger believes the real story is in the numbers. "If you look very deeply into that poll, it does not come to the conclusion that marriage is obsolete," he stated.
Despite the negative news spread across the headlines, the three-part poll conducted in association with TIME Magazine shows that the majority of respondents hold traditional views of marriage and family.
More than half of singles expressed a desire to be married. Over a third of all respondents, married and unmarried, felt it would be easier to have a fulfilling love life inside of marriage, compared to seven percent who felt it would easier to have fulfilling love life outside of marriage. Twenty-nine percent believed, over the five percent who opposed, that it is easier to find happiness within marriage.
Moreover, over two-thirds of people believed that it was best for society to have children inside of marriage. Another 69 percent felt it was bad for society for single women to become mothers.
Schneeberger believes the people's personal responses to the question are a reflection of Christian beliefs.
"From a Christian perspective, we believe that God's written on the hearts of everyone, those who know Him and those who do not, that desire to be married, that desire to have a family and that recognition that in the context of that one man, one woman marriage comes some of the things [the survey] talked about: stability, more satisfaction [and] gratification," he said.
The public may favor traditional values in their thoughts, but it does not show in their actions. Additional analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data shows that the traditional experiences of marriage and family are changing to favor co-habitation and unwedded families.
More than half of single respondents reported having lived with, and in some cases, are still living with, a partner. Of unmarried parents co-habiting with their partners, 62 percent believed that marriage was obsolete.
The trend among the youth is to "try on" marriage through a trial period of living together, believing it will lead to or improve their marriage, Schneeberger said. But living together prior to marriage can actually ruin the union, he noted.
"That has the exact opposite effect, that folks that live together first don't in fact improve their chances of having strong marriages. They actually dilute their chances of having strong marriages," he shared.
He also noted that children do best academically, behaviorally and emotionally in a home where the parents are married.
"Just because something is occurring with more frequency, certainly doesn't mean that it is a desirable thing for society," Schneeberger concluded.
Schneeberger said the church and married Christian couples can help young singles see the importance of marriage by modeling a God-centered approach.
"As a married person, I think we [tend to] emphasize a bit [more] of the challenges of marriage over the joys and benefits of marriage," he confessed.
Still, Christians shouldn't hide the fact that there are challenges, he added.
"It's not all puppy dogs and ice cream," he said.
But he stressed that marital challenges strengthen character and bring people closer to God.
"It's God's perfect design to ensure that men and women grow more in His character, and it is the, by far, best way to raise the next generation of children," he said.
"That's an important message to be getting out in our churches and in our communities and in our circles of influence."