- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 1, 2009

Over the years, I have seen several attempts to measure the well-being of our nation’s families — Bill Bennett once issued the Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, and the Family Research Council had the Family Portrait, to name two.

The rationale for these “report cards” was simple: If you can measure problems, you have a better chance of solving them.

Now comes a new measuring device called the Marriage Index.

It was developed by scholars at public policy institutions, including the Institute for American Values (IAV) and the National Center on African American Marriages and Parenting (NCAAMP), and universities such as the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Denver.

The Marriage Index is composed of five leading marriage indicators, plus a composite score, for a total of six scores.

It finds that America is not doing well on marriage.

Back in 1970, the composite Marriage Index score was a not-too-bad 76.2 out of 100. But it has eroded over the decades, and stands at a dismal 60.3 in 2008.

I will explain these numbers below, but first let me say I am a fan of fearless moral inventories, plus I am perennially optimistic, so these numbers are galvanizing, not depressing.

The Marriage Index authors’ goal is the same: They want to empower and energize American leaders and people to fight for better marriages and a better marriage culture.

“[U]nless we know where we are, and why that matters, we can’t know where to go,” the Marriage Index authors said in their new report.

“The idea is for it to become as normal and customary to talk about the Marriage Index as it is for the leading economic indicators,” David Blankenhorn, founder and president of the IAV, told me recently.

The Marriage Index report also contains 101 ideas about how to improve America’s marriage scores. These ideas revolve around such issues as marriage education, couples’ counseling, divorce reform, tax policies, faith-based activities, research, teen-pregnancy prevention, and (my favorite) journalism that specializes in marriage and family life.

The Marriage Index is designed to track five measurements — the percentage of married adults, ages 20 to 54; the percentage of married persons who are “very happy” with their marriage; the percentage of first marriages that are intact; the percentage of births to married parents; and the percentage of children living with their own married parents.

These five indicators are then combined to reach an overall score, e.g., 60.3 in 2008.

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