The Kids are All Right, and Superfluous

Oh dear. The assault on marriage continues apace. And as always, that assault is coming from heterosexuals.

Today’s latest sign that marriage isn’t what it used to be: a study by the Pew Research Center that shows that those wacky kids no longer view marriage first and foremost about parenthood.

Not that those polled think that kids aren’t important. Just that they don’t think they’re the key to a happy marriage.

Children ranked behind seven of nine* criteria for a happy marriage, behind fidelity, healthy sex, sharing chores (!), having enough money, having a good home, shared religious beliefs, and shared interests, and ahead of only an agreement on politics.

But relationships with minor children ranked first on a list of criteria for life fulfillment, just ahead of a happy marriage or relationship and relationships with adult children. (Only 23 percent of Americans listed their jobs as very fulfilling.)

So why the disconnect there? After all, isn’t the very purpose of marriage to raise kids?

Well…no, it isn’t.

You don’t have to be married to be a parent. I’m divorced, and yet my license to father wasn’t revoked. And you don’t have to be a parent to be married. I know a number of people who are happily married and/or cohabiting who aren’t in any particular rush to have a child, and their relationships are doing just fine.

Parenting is one thing, marriage is another. There may be overlap between the two, but there doesn’t have to be. And either can exist without the other. Those who are getting married today know that, and that’s a good and positive sign.

There were other good and positive signs from the study. For one thing, a majority of Americans no longer think out-of-wedlock childbirth is wrong, and 59% of Americans think premarital sex is either never or only sometimes wrong. 58% of Americans think it’s better to get divorced than stay in a loveless marriage. And 67% think a divorce is better for the children — only 19% think it’s better to stay together “for the children.”

It’s not all beer and skittles, of course. If you change the wording of the question to “single mothers having kids,” two-thirds of respondents think it’s bad. Half of people still think homosexual parents are bad. 41% think mothers with young children should stay at home.

But those trends are all going in the right direction, and they’ll continue to. For now, it’s important to recognize that whatever the religious right is screaming today — and they’re screaming, all right — the society is doing what it’s been doing for decades: moving slowly and inexorably leftward, toward a place where people are more tolerant of differences, where women have more rights than they used to, and where dividing the work equally is more important to a relationship than whether or not you add a kid.


*The awesome thing about this is I just managed to add yet another Google search string: “Seven of Nine Marriage Sex.” You’re welcome.

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “The Kids are All Right, and Superfluous

  1. Melissa

    The version of this in my local paper had all these nutcase organization going crazy over the immorality of this. I thought that children not being key to a happy marriage was common knowledge–my parents have said their fighting has gone down markedly since the kids moved out of the house.

  2. Melissa McEwan

    Welcome, Melissa. I hope you’ll continue to comment at Shakesville, although you might want to change your handle, even if it’s just to add a last initial, otherwise you will be routinely confused with me, the blogmistress of this joint. 😉

  3. …the society is doing what it’s been doing for decades: moving slowly and inexorably leftward, toward a place where people are more tolerant of differences…

    As a gay man, I have to disagree. Over half of the U.S. states now have constitutional bans against same-sex unions.

    Anti-gay hate crimes are at an all-time high.

    Many states are moving toward banning adoption by gays and lesbians.

    It is worse now than it was 30 years ago.

  4. NameChanged

    I am pleased that young people are moving forward. I have to agree with Fritz, though. Our youth are forward-thinkers, but if the general breeze catches them, it will “blow away” any progressive inclinations. They are told everyday that sex out of marriage is wrong, that birth control is immoral, and that sexuality is a choice–they better make the hetero choice. These people must be educated quickly.

    Sadly this youthful optimism is often replaced by complacency because the kids can’t be bothered to think for themselves. This is where I hope to make a difference as an educator.

  5. Pingback: University Update - Google - The Kids are All Right, and Superfluous

  6. I took this class back in college where statistics show that one of the highest rates of divorce occur right after the children leave for good. This ties in with that whole staying together for the children thing that always seemed wrong to me. Isn’t it better to demonstrate a healthy relationship possibly with another person than have two people who are not happy in their relationship together?

    NameChanged I have to say that I am glad you are getting into education to change the young minds and to teach them to think for themselves, but as a teacher myself that is incredibly difficult to do in the current educational system (read No Child Left Behind). I do my best and then just hope that the other teachers a child encounters as they go through school also work to encourage independent thought, but I know it is not always the case. But it is great to hear another educator say they want children to think independently, I am sure many if not all of the educators who read/comment on this site would agree with us, so I may be preaching to the choir, but still…

  7. JamesK

    My husband’s parents divorced several years after his little brother left the house. He has always held it against them that they didn’t get divorced years and years before and spare him a childhood of their constant arguments, fights, and low-grade warfare.

    Also, I have to disagree with Fritz. Public Opinion towards The Gay is -unbelievably- better then it was 30 years ago. Hell, it’s better then it was 3 years ago. Every three years, my husband and I go off with my parents to a family camp I’ve been going to ever since I was three (us three kids get rotated through these days). Three years ago, no one at camp knew what to make of the two very close guys hanging out. My partner was introduced as “A Friend”, and when we went along to the Couple’s Photoshoot to get ours done too, it became the first year ever that the Couple’s Photos weren’t shown at the end-of-camp slideshow.

    This year, however, he was introduced as “His Partner” or “His Husband”, and not only did we get our Couple’s Photo, but the photographer called us back because we’d forgotten to do the traditional Couple’s Kiss as well. And then had both shown in the slide show to thunderous applause and cheers. Only the 90 year old couple who’ been coming for 30 years got a bigger response.

    The right-wing is pushing through all the anti-gay laws they can now because they realize, consciously or not, that their days are numbered. If they don’t do it now, they’ll never get the chance. Don’t forget all the laws passed against interracial marriage in the years leading up to it’s legalization. The world changes. The world has changed. In just three years it’s gotten better, and it will keep getting better.

  8. The right-wing is pushing through all the anti-gay laws they can now because they realize, consciously or not, that their days are numbered.

    Exactly. No matter how many barriers are erected in the short term, the trendline is clear. Gay marriage will be legal in over half the country in the next two decades. And that may be pessimistic.

  9. oddjob

    I’m sorry Fritz, but as a gay man I find your contention that things are worse now is both bizarre and silly. We’ve discussed this before and I know I won’t change your opinion, but 30 years ago there were plenty of states where it was a crime to have any sex with someone of the same gender as yourself.

    How you could find things worse now is just weird.

    Period.

  10. Doctor Jay

    As a parent of a 16 and 18 year old, I can attest that children are a stressor of marriage. I love them both dearly, and have no regrets, but there’s nothing easy about it.

    Young women will still allow themselves to become pregnant in the hopes of strengthening a marriage or getting a partner to commit to them. This is wrongheaded. Breaking up with him because you want children is justified, and may cause him to rethink. But don’t try to trap him (or her) with a baby. Guilt is not enough to sustain a marriage.

  11. oddjob

    They are told everyday that sex out of marriage is wrong, that birth control is immoral, and that sexuality is a choice–they better make the hetero choice. These people must be educated quickly.

    We were told the same in the 70’s. It made no difference then and it will make less difference now. America is now an utterly different place than it was even in the 1970’s, let alone the 1960’s. In 1964 or ’65 we were living in southeastern Pennsylvania, but my father had to have his vasectomy in Delaware because in Pennsylvania it was illegal for a man to have a vasectomy.

    That’s really the way it was.

    And you guys think it’s worse now than then?????????????

  12. I think it is a mix of better and worse for gay people in the US.

    It is a completely different world in many ways, but I still bristle at the idea that I might have to wait two decades before I might marry the person of my choosing and that the reason I must wait is because of the bigotry of others.

    I will be 52 and my love will be 68 – how horrible a thought, to consider that either us might die before we are able to marry. Heartbreaking.

    I hope it is an inevitable as it seems to be to many people who post around here, but to my mind, there are no guarantees, it could all get much much worse before it gets better.

  13. As someone who came out in 1974, I will assure you — things have not gotten “worse” for gays in the past 30 years.

    The very thought of having “gay marriage” be an issue for public discussion was beyond my comprehension at that time.

    Take heart, my lovelies — this is simply the backlash produced by forward motion. It’s happened every time there is a surge forward in any equal rights movement. When I was a child, there were still race-segregated water fountains in my home town. Candidates ran on the issue of “protecting” us from those nasty black folk. And lost.

    There is no going back, unless we back off.

  14. Pingback: Rants From The Rookery: Think of the children!

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