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.