A brief (and disturbing) history of marriage

In the last 35 years, a lot has changed ... and most of it is not for the better. But there are signs of hope.

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  • Things have changed a lot during the 35 years we have been writing and speaking about marriage, parenting and families. It used to be that we could assume the majority of people wanted to be married, wanted to make a total commitment to that marriage, wanted children and wanted to prioritize those children and raise them responsibly.

    Today, however, we sadly can no longer make these assumptions in many places we go.

    Across much of the world, the trends that discourage happy family life have become so dramatic that majorities have turned into minorities and minorities have turned into majorities. Here are some of the turning points society has taken that we have documented in our new book "The Turning":

  • In terms of wanting to be married

    • For the first time in our history, the majority of adults in the U.S. are single.

    • Only 25 percent of 20- to 29-year-olds are married today compared with 70 percent of the same age group in 1960.

    • In many major world cities, many households are now occupied not by a family or even by a couple but instead by a single individual.

  • In terms of wanting to make a total commitment to marriage

    • Far more couples now move in together in cohabitation than in marriage.

    • More than half of U.S. marriages now end in divorce. Similar percentages apply in most Western countries.

  • In terms of wanting children

    • "Having a family" is no longer the stated goal of the majority in many countries.

    • The majority of women between 20 and 40 in some Asian countries now say they do not want kids.

  • In terms of both parents wanting to prioritize children and raise them responsibly

    • In the Western world, more children are now born out of wedlock than to married parents.

    • 70 percent of African-American children and 50 percent of Hispanic children in the U.S. are raised in a home without their father.

    As our culture overemphasizes career achievement and the personal freedom of keeping all options open, and as it becomes exponentially harder to raise children, more and more people are turning away from traditional family ideals and aspirations.

    And, the question is: If families no longer fulfill the essential functions of (1) procreation, (2) raising the next generation of responsible citizens and (3) giving children the unconditional love and sense of identity they need, what other element or institution of society can accomplish those things?

    But before we all get too discouraged and decide the world is doomed, consider some positive signs that actually indicate the pendulum is swinging back and families are getting stronger in some ways:

  • Greater focus on parenting

    Most parents seem to be thinking and working harder at parenting more than ever before. "Parenting," a verb we didn't even use a generation ago, is becoming something of an art, science and skill set people work on.

  • More involved dads

    Dads are more involved than ever before, taking more interest in their kids and forming parenting partnerships with their wives.

  • Higher education

    Data show the more educated people are, the more likely they are to get married, stay married and adopt a stable family lifestyle. People with higher education generally set the trends for the rest of the population.

    So, there is a lot to be concerned about in today's world when it comes to marriage, families and the destiny of our children, BUT there are some optimistic signs that more and more people are realizing that a married, committed, family-centric life is not only the right way to live but also the happiest and most fulfilling way.

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Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times #1 Bestselling Authors and founders of JoySchools.com who speak worldwide on marriage and parenting issues. Their new books are The Turning, and Life in Full.

Website: http://www.valuesparenting.com

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