Is marriage obsolete in modern societies?

A survey showed recently that more Americans believe that marriage is optional and may soon become obsolete.

The Pew Research Center, along with Time magazine, surveyed 2,691 adults to determine how their attitude towards relationships has changed, according to USA Today.

The study, conducted in the first three weeks of October, interviewed adults aged 18 to 65 and older by telephone and cell phones. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau on demography and economics was also analyzed by Pew researchers, according to AolNews.

Findings showed 39 percent believe that marriage is starting to become obsolete–an 11 percent increase from 1978 when 28 percent of respondents gave the same answer to Time magazine, USA Today said.

Census data showed the percentage of married adults has declined, at 54 percent of married adults in 2010, compared to 57 percent in 2000 and 72 percent in 1960, USA Today reported.

According to AolNews, those most likely to say it is becoming obsolete are unmarried couples who cohabitate and have children (62 percent), and conservatives (42 percent) who consider this trend unfortunate.

Paul Taylor of Pew told USA Today, “If four in 10 are saying it’s becoming obsolete, they’re registering an awareness of a very important social change. It doesn’t necessarily mean marriage is about to disappear or has disappeared.”

Changing concepts of family

What the study does show is that people are recognizing that there are now different definitions of a family. AolNews said respondents consider the following to be a family: A single parent and child (86 percent), unmarried couples cohabiting with children (80 percent), gay or lesbian couples raising a child (63 percent), and a childless married couple (88 percent). The same number, 88 percent, believe an unmarried couple living together without children is not a family.

The Census Bureau plans to widen the definition of family to measure poverty starting next year to include unmarried couples (same-sex partners, and foster children who are not adopted or blood related), the AP said.

This will reduce the total number of children and families who are considered poor, and will be the basis for federal and state bureaus to establish anti-poverty plans, the AP reported.

Explanation of numbers

Although many respondents believe marriage is becoming obsolete, it does not follow that they think it is unimportant. USA Today interviewed Stephanie Coontz, a professor of history and family studies at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., who said, “The relationship of marriage is taken more seriously than it used to be and it means more to people, but the institution is no longer as dominant.”

USA Today reported that the majority of college graduates marry (64 percent), but they would more likely do so if they are white (56 percent) than black (32 percent). Almost half of those without college would still marry (48 percent).

Living together without marriage has doubled since 1990 at 44 percent (over half of them aged 30-49). However, 64 percent of the respondents consider it as a step towards marriage, according to USA Today.

The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percent, AolNews reported.

Source: Pew Research Center survey

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