'STATE OF OUR UNIONS' TROUBLING TRENDS - MN 9/99
Thu Sep 23 11:12:48 EDT 1999
from: Smart Marriages
'STATE OF OUR UNIONS' SPOTS TROUBLING TRENDS
In the last four decades, marriage - our nation's most important social
institution - has undergone dramatic change. Strangely, however, we have
had no national studies, government commissions or task forces to examine
its status or propose measures to strengthen it.
This summer, the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University took an
important step in remedying this neglect. It released a report by social
scientist David Popenoe and writer Barbara Dafoe Whitehead entitled "The
State of Our Unions: the Social Health of Marriage in America." The
report, which will be updated annually, offers valuable new information
"The State of Our Unions" identifies a number of troubling trends, among
them the following:
-Since 1970, marriage rates in America have fallen by about 35
percent, as more people choose to remain single or cohabit.
-In the last two decades, the percentage of people who say they
in "very happy" first marriages has declined substantially and
continuously. (The figure has fallen from 54 percent to 38 percent of
those in first marriages.)
-Young women are increasingly pessimistic about their chances for
-Since 1960, the number of cohabiting couples has soared by 1,000
percent. Though many young people believe that premarital cohabitation
improves their chances for a successful marriage, there is significant
evidence suggesting to the opposite.
What ails marriage? Part of the problem, say Popenoe and Whitehead, is
that the larger culture no longer views it as meriting special status,
protection and authority. Marriage was once regarded as an institution in
whose well-being the whole society had a stake. Today, it has "dwindled
a 'couples relationship,' mainly designed for the sexual and emotional
gratification of each adult." More and more, report Popenoe and
Americans tend to "bury" marriage in the larger category of "intimate
Yet marriage remains our nation's fundamental social institution, Its
mutual obligations form the primary bonds that hold a community together,
transforming a collection of isolated, self-interested individuals into a
hightly interdependent social order. As the experience of the last 30
years makes clear, stable and satisfying marriages are crucial for the
proper socialization and overall well-being of children.
Individual spouses, too, benefit mightily from marriage. Recent research
confirms married people as a group enjoy better health and longer lives
than unmarried people. Popenoe and Whitehead cite a 1998 cross-cultural
study which found that marriage is postiviely correlated with happiness in
16 of the 17 nations examined.
According to Popenoe and Whitehead, most Americans continue to aspire to a
happy and long-lasting marrige. Indeed, the number of young people
identifying such a marriage as a "very important" life goal has actually
risen since 1980.
Here in Minnesota, there's a kind of marriage renaissance going on. The
University of Minnesota's Department of Family Social Services is renowed
as a leader in the field. Dr. David Olson, a faculty member, is the
originator of PREPARE, perhaps the world's most widely used program for
building and maintaining good marriages.
Two grassroots organizations - Retrouvaille and Marriage Savers - are also
working to strengthen marriages in the Twin Cities. Both rely heavily on
huge, untapped resource: experienced, volunteer mentor couples who are
trained to teach other couples how to make their marriages a success.
organizations work through churches, and both maintain that most couples
can learn the communication and conflict resolution skills that are the
secret of a strong marriage.
Retrouvaille, an international organzation, specializes in revitalizing
deeply troubled marriages. It uses clergy and mentor couples (many of whom
have "mentally packed their bags at least once") to guide and instruct
couples considering divorce. Though historically Catholic, Retrouvaille
now worlks with couples of other faiths as well. Its Twin Cities branch
the largest Retrouvaille operation in the world.
Marraige Savers, headquartered in Potomac, Md., has a somewhat different
goal. It seeks to convert churches from "blessing machines" to
marriage and family support centers. Marriage Savers' aims are diverse:
help engaged couples avoid bad marraiges, strengthen existing marriages,
assist separated couples to reconcile, and give stepfamilies the tools
need to be successful.
Marriage Savers works by enlisting churches in a community to sign on to a
"Community Marriage Agreement." Churches that do so agree to take a
common, coordinated approach to marriage - i.e., to require intensive
premarital preparation, to train mentor couples, and to develop a variety
of marriage enrichment opportunities. To date, over 5000 churches in 111
cities hae signed community marriage agreements. In the Twin Cities, over
300 houses of worship have done so, including churches from 30 Christian
denominations, as well as synagogues and mosques. Marriage Savers' Twin
Cities operation - like Retrouvaille's - is the largest in the country.
Marriage Savers' founder, Mike McManus, will be in Minnesota on October 28
to discuss his organization's work. At North Heights Lutheran Church in
Arden Hills he will speak to religious leaders about expanding their
marriage-related support services."
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