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Fewer Marriages, Fewer Babies, No Wonder!

Is marriage and raising children too difficult?

More and more people are opting out of marriage and children. The Pew Research Center found that just half of adults (51 percent) age 18 and older is married reflecting a continued drop in the marriage rate-and an all time low. In 1960, for example, 72 percent had tied the knot. The number of new marriages declined five percent between 2009 and 2010 alone. Interestingly, among single adults who have been married before, only 26 percent want to remarry.

The downward trend is most dramatic among young adults. Galia Myron who analyzes demographic trends, called 18-29-year-olds "Marriagephobic Millennials," noting that "while Millennials value parenthood, they are more likely to shun marriage." Could marriage be too difficult?

65 percent of married parents are NOT VERY happy.

The "2011 State of Our Unions," a report from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values, looked at happiness levels among married couples. Specifically, the study"explores the links between marriage, parenthood, meaning in life, and happiness."It boasts that 35 per cent of married couples are very happy. But what about the 65 percent who aren't? Don't we marry with the intent of being very happy?

W. Bradford Wilcox, the "State of Our Unions" editor, explained: "From the 1400 couples in the study about 1100 married couples had children in this sample. But let me be clear: About 65% of parents were not "very happy" but many were "happy" in their marriage. Many were NOT in distress, just not "very happy."

One of the themes explored in "The State of Our Unions" centers around the number of children a couple has. Apparently, you can't have just one or two babies and be VERY happy. A section titled "Family Size, Faith, and the Meaning of Parenthood" reveals fairly consistent happiness levels for parents with 1-3 children. Those parents report being happy, but they are not very happy. The leap to being a VERY happy married couple actually sets in when you have no children or four or more children.

When I asked Wilcox if religion was a component in the marital happiness levels, he said, "Yes, we were very surprised to find that -- among married couples 18-46 -- the happiest spouses were those with 0 children and 4+ children. We find that among parents with more than 4 children, higher levels of religiosity, higher levels of social support, and higher levels of reported meaning in life helped to account for their higher marital happiness.

"So, in real terms, this means that parents of large families seem to be happier in their marriages in part because they are more religious, in part because their friends are more supportive of them and their families, and in part because they derive a great deal of meaning from parenthood. But, beyond this, I bet that parents of large families derive a sense of happiness from more family-centered activities and accomplishments." Wilcox illustrated his last point: "I once met a Mormon mother of a large family who derived a great deal of satisfaction from her children's many accomplishments. I'm sure that spilled over into her marital happiness."

Fewer Marriages, Fewer Babies, No Wonder!

Readers of this blog have known for ages that "having one child may be becoming more 'normal," as Carol Hogue, professor of maternal and child health and epidemiology at Emory University told the Associated Press. And, I have discussed studies that indicate mothers with one child are happiest.

The evidence of the downward trend in family size is pretty convincing. According to a 2011 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the drop in birth rate since the end of 2007 is consistent among teenagers, those in their early twenties and thirties, and unmarried women. The only group seeing an uptick was women ages 40-44. Most demographers agree that a once debatable explanation is a certainty: having babies is not recession proof.

For right now, the economy is too weak to sustain increases in the marriage or birth rates. It's no wonder more and more men and women are saying no to marriage and saying no to children. Singles (like married couples with no children in Wilcox's study) are very happy as PT blogger Bella DePaulo reminds us in Singlism's Cousin: Stereotyping, Stigmatizing, and Ignoring Adults with No Children.

What makes you very happy? Being single? Being married? One child? No children? A houseful of offspring?

Copyright @ 2011, 2016 by Susan Newman

Cohn, D'Vera, Jeffrey Passel, Wendy Wang and Gretchen Livingston. "Barely Half of U.S. Adults Are Married - A Record Low." Pew Social Trends, December 14, 2011.

DePaulo, Bella. Singlism's Cousin: Stereotyping, Stigmatizing, and Ignoring Adults with No Children. Psychology Today, April, 2004.

Hamilton, Brady E. Ph.D., Joyce A. Martin, M.P.H., and Stephanie J. Ventura, M.A. Births: Preliminary Data for 2010. National Vital Statistics Reports, Volume 60, number 2, November, 2011

Myron, Galia. "Marriagephobic Millennials." Demo Dirt, March 22, 2011

Wilcox, W. Bradford, Marquardt, Elizabeth. National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values, "2011 State of Our Unions."