What makes marriage work? The Pew Research Center, a self-described nonpartisan "fact tank,” surveyed Americans to discover what they thought the answer to this age old question was. Respondents were given a list of 9 things that people find crucial to a successful marriage and asked if they were very important, rather important or not important at all. The latest results of this study had many surprised and concerned over the outcome and the shift in American opinions on marriage since the survey was last conducted in 1990. How could one study cause alarm on the state of marital affairs in the US?
The biggest surprise of the survey was the increased importance expressed on sharing household chores. While “faithfulness” and “a happy sexual relationship” took the number one and two spot in the rankings of what was very important to a successful marriage, the biggest change in the survey was the rise of “sharing household chores” as very important. However, the study report published on the survey results did not dive into the growth in the importance of sharing chores. Rather then focus on the important message this sends on marital partnerships and the increased equality in relationships, the published report honed in on the decreased number of people who rank children as very important to a successful marriage and public concern over the perceived de-linking of marriage and parenthood.
The research center’s analysis on the decline of children being very important to the success of a marriage is debatable and brings into question how nonpartisan the Pew Research Center actually is, especially with the attention received from conservative groups and organizations like the National Marriage Project, whose co-director Barbara Dafoe Whitehead wrote in her essay "Life Without Children," that "the popular culture is increasingly oriented to fulfilling the X-rated fantasies and desires of adults," "child-rearing values - sacrifice, stability, dependability, maturity - seem stale and musty by comparison," and "the cultural devaluation of child rearing is especially harmful in the American context."
The Pew report, “As Marriage and Parenthood Drift Apart, Public Is Concerned about Social Impact,” poorly interprets a tie to survey results on non-marital child bearing, on successful marriages and the reasons to get married, twisting the results to support the conservative agenda of the National Marriage Project and their discrimination against anyone who does not adhere to their ideals of heterosexual marriages and focus on child-bearing. Removing the conservative spin on the survey yields a different interpretation of the results. A majority of adults actually see believe in marriage before children. The survey also found that nearly 3-to-1 Americans see the main purpose of marriage to find "mutual happiness and fulfillment" rather than "bearing and raising of children” but still place high value on their relationship with children. Essentially, the study and survey results actually support the following:
- Children are not important to a successful Marriage.
- Marriage is important for Children.
- Children are important to People.
The logic applied in the study report incorrectly bridges areas of the survey and gives conservative groups unjustifiable support in their causes. The survey results demonstrate that people still place value on having children; they are just not seen as the center of a successful marriage. Marriage and parenthood are not drifting apart; people are just realizing that defining your marriage through children is not what it takes to be happy and successful, a belief that is central to childfree marriages and those parents who want to maintain a strong relationship even after they are empty-nesters. Our generation is learning from the mistakes of the past; we witnessed first hand what having children to save a marriage, staying married for the sake of the children, deciding to have children when being childfree would be a better personal option and making children the central point in defining a marriage did for past generations. Not only did these actions and attitudes contribute to the level of unhappiness in marriages and the exponential rise of the divorce rate, it also put an unfair burden on children to somehow make their parents marriage work; as if just being a kid is not enough pressure without the added responsibility of being the glue in an adult relationship.
I applaud the public shift in defining marriage as a distinctive and separate connection between people with a purpose other then bearing children and see this change as just what our society needs for stronger, healthier relationships. Let's hope others use the results of the survey more accurately to report on the progress being made in creating equality and stability in marriage through equality and partnership.