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Changes in family trends raise qualms

Study finds ambivalence

- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 18, 2010

Americans are "suspended between acceptance and unease" about the many changes in family trends, says a new report based on the views of nearly 2,700 people.

For instance, marriage is still "the norm" for adults with a college education and good job, but it is "markedly less prevalent" among populations at the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder, said the authors of "The Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families," released Thursday by Pew Research Center's Social and Demographic Trends Project.

People in the less-advantaged groups "are as likely as others to want to marry," but they want to be financially secure before they tie the knot. "This is a bar that many may not meet," said the report, which is based on Census Bureau data and telephone interviews with 2,691 adults in October.

Besides the emerging economic gap in marriage, there are "striking differences by generation."

In 1960, two out of three - 68 percent - of people in their 20s were married. Nearly half a century later, in 2008, only one in four - 26 percent - of these young adults had walked down the aisle.

"How many of today's youth will eventually marry is an open question," added the report, which was edited by Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew Research Center and director of the social-trends project.

The survey captured views about what defines a family, women in the workplace, cohabiting, alternative family forms (including same-sex couples), unwed childbearing and reasons for marrying. Age, class, race, sex, religion and marital and family circumstance often mattered in whether a respondent welcomed or disapproved of a change.

The report also found that despite five decades of shifting trends, Americans remain strongly attached to family life: 76 percent said family was the most important element in their lives.

The Pew report, done in association with Time magazine, included more than 1,000 people contacted on their cellular phones. It also oversampled three key groups: divorced or separated parents of minor children, cohabiting parents of minor children, and unmarried parents of minor children who are not living with anyone. The survey had an error margin of 2.6 percentage points.

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