Archive for December 3, 2012

The Marriage Recession

Marriage 1I’m not surprised, but I am saddened.  A recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center confirms what we already know:  the estate of marriage has been in decline now for decades and it continues to decline.  Richard Fry summarizes the study’s findings:

In 2011, 4.2 million adults were newly married, about the same number as in 2010 and sharply lower than the 4.5 million newlyweds estimated in 2008…The decline in nuptials from 2008 to 2011 is in keeping with a general trend away from marriage in the U.S. Barely half of adults (51%) were married in 2011, according to ACS data, compared with 72% in 1960.  Marriage increasingly is being replaced by cohabitation, single-person households and other adult living arrangements.[1]

Two things are striking about Fry’s summary.  First, the rapid decline of married households from 1960 to 2011 is astonishing.  It represents nothing less than a seismic shift in premium our culture places on marriage.  Clearly, the value that people place on marriage has taken a precipitous fall.  Second, Fry’s observation that “marriage is increasingly being replaced by cohabitation” is also tremendously significant, for it marks a radical departure from God’s ideal of a covenanted relationship between one man and one woman who share and confront life together (cf. Genesis 2:24).

Of course, there are some who applaud this shift away from marriage toward cohabitation as the inevitable unleashing of a long-suppressed epicurean desire that has finally managed to shake itself free from the asphyxiating antiquated constraints of Victorian mores.  What these jubilant celebrants who eagerly preside over marriage’s funeral fail to notice, however, is the disturbing darkness that the decline of marriage reveals in the hearts of humans, not only as it pertains to sexual passions, but as it pertains to a basic lack of concern for others.

One of the blessings of marriage is the commitment it demands.  Rather than arbitrarily living with someone to whom there is no formal, long-term, and, indeed, life-long commitment, marriage demands the kind of fidelity that does not shift with better times or with worse times, with riches or with poverty, with sickness or with health.  The promises a person makes in his or her marriage vows are to remain firm even when everything else in life is in continual flux.  Thus, marriage vows are not primarily for the benefit of the one who makes them, though there are certainly blessings to be found in God-pleasing vows, but for the one who receives what they promise, for the vows focus especially on the interests of the partner to whom they are made.  A refusal to make these vows and instead cohabitate can allow some couples to unscrupulously hop from one relationship to the next, discarding any lover who a person feels no longer “meets their needs.”  In its worst form, then, cohabitation can amount to little more than rank selfishness on display.

Ultimately, at the same time marriage forges our character, it also reveals our character.  Marriage forges our character because it calls us to remain committed to another person even when our natural inclination would tend toward severing a relationship.  Marriage reveals our character because whether or not we are willing to enter into such a relationship in the first place says a lot about how willing we are to trade our own self-interest for service to another.  Marriage matters – not just because it safeguards the romantic relationships we have, but because it exposes the kind of people we are.  My prayer is that more and more people commit to be individuals of fidelity and service rather than sensuality and selfishness.

[1] Richard Fry, “No Reversal in Decline of Marriage,” Pew Research Center (11.20.12).


December 3, 2012 at 5:15 am 2 comments

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