The Pew Research Center has come out with a new study on what Americans think is important to a "successful" marriage. The number one and two items, fidelity and a good sexual relationship respectively, haven't changed much since 1990. The two biggest movers in this survey, though, give us something to think about when we wonder what exactly do Americans think make a good marriage.
There was a 15% increase in the number of Americans saying that sharing household chores was key and a 22% decrease in number saying that children were very important to a successful marriage, making it drop to less than half the population. Indeed, with the more modestly rising "Good housing" and "Adequate income", with nine and seven percent increases respectively, it's beginning to seem like Americans are looking at marriage differently.
The idea that marriage is a rite of passage in a predetermined arc that one goes through and is necessary to stability and happiness is decreasing. With fewer people saying that children are key to a successful marriage, however the term "successful" is defined, it's looking as though people who do enter into marriages nowadays are doing so quite a bit more freely, which may explain why fewer people are getting married overall. The survey also asked people what the purpose of marriage is, and the percentage favoring happiness of the adults involved was over three times larger than the percentage favoring children. So it's not surprising that people are seeing these two life-altering decisions as separate, rather than as part of the same package.
And good riddance to that mentality. It certainly hasn't benefited too many groups, as that predefined life arc excluded lots of people - queers, the elderly, young adults, and happy singles - from the benefits of marriage. (While I completely empathize with queers who want to extend marriage benefits to same-sex partners to increase the number of poeple with health coverage and retirement plans, I've never understood why being married or in a conjugal relationship should make one more entitled to adequate health care or a sound retirement.) As people begin to question the procreative-centricity, we begin to see a society that is more accepting of those who choose not to participate in the McFamily, like working women and queers.
The results are interesting in their break-down along racial lines as well. White people were overall less likely to say that anything was key to a successful marriage, but nowhere was that difference greater than in the "good housing" category. It seems as though those in a position of racial privilege are better able to ignore the economic factors that affect marriage, although more of society in general is catching up on that one.
This study must come as a slap in the face to those who would have us believe that a happy marriage, and a happy life in general, is one in which the adults keep their heads down and only focus on their children so those same advocates can obscure the economic reality that the rich are getting richer, the poor and working classes are taking up a larger percentage of the tax burden, and less financial security is the real culprit attacking the American family, not two dudes in tuxes or women who don't want to stay barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. And as the link between children and marriage is questioned, it'll hopefully spill over into questioning many of the privileges that are limited to married couples.