- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 20, 2010

“Mawwaige is in twubble.” That would be the likely reaction of the “impressive clergyman” in “The Princess Bride” or Elmer Fudd upon reading the latest Pew Research Center report, “The Decline of Marriage and the Rise of New Families.”

They’d be right. Some findings: Fewer people marry; those who do, marry later; more couples cohabit, and there is rising acceptance of “nontraditional” families. Tragically, more children (41 percent) than ever grow up outside a home with a married mother and father. Also, nearly 40 percent in the survey answered “yes” to the question, “Is marriage becoming obsolete?” Ouch.

Nothing really is new here, except when you dig deeper. There is surprisingly high resistance across all demographic groups to the idea that these developments are a good thing.

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From the report: “Seven in ten (69 percent) say the trend toward more single women having children is bad for society, and 61 percent say that a child needs both a mother and father to grow up happily.”

Just 10 percent overall say it’s “good” that more unmarried couples are raising children. Just 12 percent says it’s “good” that homosexual couples are raising children. And just 9 percent think it’s “good” that unmarried people are living together.

So, while the report reflects growing acceptance in practice of the radical feminist view that marriage, family life and sexual morality are just “evolving,” many people are uneasy. They should be. Even many who have chosen unconventional paths admit that the timeless model of a married dad and mom with kids is optimal. And the wreckage of “no-fault” divorce, particularly its impact on children, is all around us.

The decline in marriage has hit the black population the hardest:

“In 1960, 17 percent of adult blacks and 14 percent of adult whites had never married - a gap of just 3 percentage points.” Now, “fewer than one-third of adult blacks (32 percent) are currently married, compared with half of Hispanics and 56 percent of whites, according to Census Bureau data. On the flip side, 44 percent of blacks have never been married, compared with just 23 percent of whites.”

What’s happened since 1960? The Great Society’s welfare machine mowed down marriage and families in largely black communities, and the result is bombed-out neighborhoods in Detroit and nightly shootings in Newark, N.J. Welfare reform in 1996 began reversing some of the worst trends, but President Obama managed to slip a reversal of those reforms into the stimulus bill last year.

Perhaps the most telling statistic in the report is the rise in cohabitation, which doubled from 1990 to more than 6 million households in 2008. This is a situation in which a woman agrees to live wifelike with a man without a commitment on the part of the guy. It used to be called “shacking up,” but now it’s often considered a trial run for marriage. At least, that’s what more of the women say than the men, according to the survey.

Sometimes it has a happy ending. I know at least one couple celebrating their 30th anniversary who once cohabited and another couple who just tied the knot and look like keepers. But they are the exceptions, according to recent data.

Cohabitation militates against what makes a successful marriage - a lifelong commitment. Couples who live together before marriage are telling their partners that they really aren’t sure that “this is it.” They have one foot out of the relationship, just in case.

If either partner is unhappy, they are less likely to stay the course, to bother making up. Permanence is one of the most powerful incentives to swallow our pride and forgive or seek forgiveness.

Janice Shaw Crouse, in her book “Children at Risk,” notes: “Many cohabiting couples say that they want to live together to see if they are compatible, not realizing that cohabitation is more a preparation for divorce than it is a way to strengthen the likelihood of a successful marriage. A study on premarital cohabitation conducted by researchers from Yale University … revealed that the divorce rates of women who cohabit are nearly 80 percent higher than the rates of those who do not.”

Ms. Crouse conveys other disturbingly inconvenient facts about cohabitation:

c Men who cohabit are four times more likely to cheat than married men.

c Women who cohabit are eight times more likely to cheat than married women.

c Cohabiting couples are four times more likely to be in poverty than married couples.

The Pew paper reports, “Most married parents of children under 18 say they have never cohabited (57 percent), but most unmarried parents of children under 18 say they have (80 percent).” This helps make Ms. Crouse’s point that cohabitation is not necessarily a step toward the altar.

Amid the overall-downer Pew report, there was some good news: “Ask Americans what is most important in their lives, and it’s clear that families come first. Fully 76 percent of adults say that their family is the single most important element of their lives.”

The report also warns us not to read too much into the “Is marriage becoming obsolete?” finding: “When the World Values Survey posed a similar question in 2006 that used a more starkly worded formulation (‘Marriage is an outdated institution - agree or disagree?’), just 13 percent of American respondents agreed.”

After several decades of the sexual revolution, the pill, abortion on demand, “no-fault” divorce, “Friends” and “Two-and-a-Half Men,” we might take some solace that marriage is still the ideal.

And why not? It was created by God before any other human institution, it is universally practiced, and it remains, as the U.S. Supreme Court once noted, the “sure foundation of all that is stable and noble in our civilization.”

Robert Knight is senior writer for Coral Ridge Ministries and the author of the just-released book, “The Truth About Marriage” (Coral Ridge Ministries).

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