The State of Matrimony; Marriages are down; so are divorces.
cmfce at his.com
Sat Jan 13 17:25:28 EST 2001
subject: The State of Matrimony; Marriages are down; so are divorces.
from: Smart Marriages
This article accompanied the analysis of divorce/marriage
data in Hamilton County sent earlier. The reporter interviewed many in the
Coalition including Popenoe, Gallagher, Nock and Sollee as she tried to make
sense of the rapidly declining divorce rate in her county. - diane
The State of Matrimony; I do, I don't; Marriages are down; so are divorces.
The impact of change is profound. By: Richelle Thompson
The Cincinnati Enquirer
This is marriage in Cincinnati today:
Fewer people say "I do" than did 20 years ago - and far fewer people
People wait until their late 20s and early 30s to exchange vows, resulting
in a stunning 85 percent drop in teen marriages.
More than half the women who had babies in 1998 did it alone - forgoing
An Enquirer analysis of more than 14,000 Hamilton County marriage licenses
in 1979 and 1999 reveals a dramatic shift in when and if people decide to
enter the state of matrimony. At a time when family values top social and
political agendas, the city that prides itself as a family-focused place is
undergoing profound change.
The analysis - the first of its kind in Hamilton County - found marriage
rates fell 22 percent in two decades, compared to a 20 percent national
decline. Divorce dropped 46 percent, three times faster than the decline
These changing marriage patterns redefine the concept of the modern family
in our neighborhoods and impact almost every part of our lives, from health
and childcare to consumer spending and poverty levels.
"We're in the middle of a massive shift about what marriage means and what
role it plays in people's lives," says Dorian Solot, executive director of
the Boston-based Alternatives to Marriage Project.
"Images we have of what adult life is about often center on marriage," she
says. But as Americans increasingly postpone marriage - or skip it entirely
- "we need to update these visions of adulthood."
Jennifer Suder's wedding was rich with tradition. She walked down the aisle
Dec. 9 in a flowing white dress. She exchanged vows with Brian Frye,
promising to love and honor, for richer and for poorer. The Miamitown
couple celebrated with 300 of their family, friends and co-workers. The
next day, they headed off for a honeymoon in the tropics.
But like many of her peers today, Jennifer Suder Frye breaks with tradition
Mrs. Frye is 27, 3 1/2 years older than the average first-time bride in
1979. Before she married, she wanted to finish a paramedic class and feel
secure in her job.
"I'm glad I'm a bit older getting married," she says. "We're both
established in our careers. Our personalities are more established."
Mr. Frye adds: "We're not wet behind the ears."
The Enquirer's analysis found only 64 of 5,781 marriages in 1999 involved
two teens 15 to 19 years old. That's an 85 percent drop in two decades.
Nationally, the number of married teens in 1998 is less than half the
number in 1979, census figures show.
The trend of fewer teen marriages is one Hanan Yehia supports.
"I think most of the time getting married young won't last," says the
16-year-old North Avondale girl. "Because as people grow older, they
change. They grow apart and have different values. What they want out of
A junior at Walnut Hills, Hanan says she plans to attend college first and
start a career in law or politics before even considering marriage.
Many young adults across Hamilton County are postponing - or even shunning
- marriage to compete in the work force. The changing labor market requires
young adults to have more education, skills and work experience than
previous generations to snag the best-paying jobs. They put in longer hours
and frequently job-hop to the next bigger and better position.
Dramatic changes in the lives of women also account for the shift in
marital trends. Accessible contraception means they can delay pregnancy.
More women than ever work outside the home, giving them financial success
and stability that marriage formerly provided.
Women don't have to marry to have the money to buy a house and car or even
to raise a child. They're earning it themselves.
"Women don't want some guy who's a slob who just brings home the bacon.
Women don't have to put up with that kind of guy today," says Dr. David
Popenoe, a sociology professor and co-director of the National Marriage
Project at Rutgers University in New York.
As a result, the average age of a first-time groom in Hamilton County last
year was 29.4, up four years from 1979. Brides were an average of 27.5
years old, also a four-year jump during the same period. All brides and
grooms, including those marrying for the second or more times, waited an
average of 4 1/2 years longer.
Marriage isn't what it used to be, says Barbara Hawkins, 62, of Woodlawn.
She and her husband, Vernon, celebrated their 25th anniversary last month.
"A lot of the young people don't even want to get married anymore," Mrs.
Hawkins says. "They value careers, and their freedom of coming and going.
Some don't want to commit for the rest of their life."
Some psychologists have coined a phrase, "emerging adulthood," to refer to
the time between living with your parents and running your own family.
In 1950, only 2 percent of young adults 18 to 29 were not living within a
family. Today it's closer to 25 percent.
Stoney Scales of Kennedy Heights married last year for the first time at
In his 20s, marriage wasn't a priority; climbing the corporate ladder was.
Like a nomad, Mr. Scales moved often to seize new employment opportunities
and propel his career.
When Mr. Scales came to Cincinnati for a marketing research position, he
was 31 and never married.
That was when he started to take stock of his life.
"You begin to look at what you are chasing, and are you ever going to catch
it," Mr. Scales says.
He met Bridget Kelly at a Mount Adams bar, and they began dating. A teacher
at a private school, Bridget wasn't ready to get married - even though she
was interested in Stoney.
Top priority was finishing a master's degree in education and obtaining a
Montessori certificate. She wanted to be established in her career and to
follow her parents' advice.
"They always said, 'Go out and experience everything first,' " says Mrs.
Scales, now 31. " 'You can still get married, but explore everything
Today the majority of couples who marry lived together first, says Dr.
Steven Nock, a sociologist and statistician at the University of Virginia
Census figures show cohabitation increased 164 percent since 1980. To
better track the numbers, the census bureau added to its 1990 form a circle
for unmarried partner.
Young people are more realistic than their parents about the chances of a
successful marriage, says Ms. Solot of Alternatives to Marriage.
"They want to enter into marriages with care," she says. "I think unmarried
relationships are a way of slowing things down and making sure you're not
rushing into something prematurely."
As a result, cohabitation has evolved into a major trend, Ms. Solot says.
"There's a recognition that you don't need to be married to have a healthy
or fulfilling life," she says. "People see marriage isn't a magic cloak
they can put on and be protected."
The Enquirer surveyed Xavier University students taking a course on
marriage and family. Three-quarters of the 53 students who responded said
they would consider living with an unmarried partner. Only seven felt
living together was morally wrong.
The students primarily were 19, 20 or 21 years old.
Just under half of the students said living together is a good way to test
whether a marriage will work. Experts say the notion of "trying out" a
marriage is driving much of the increase in cohabitation.
But Dr. Nock says it's a risky strategy.
"There's no debate among anybody who does research . . . living together
increases chances for divorce," he says. The most conservative estimates
show people who live together before marrying are three times as likely to
divorce than those who do not cohabit.
The question researchers are still trying to determine, Dr. Nock says, is
whether "people who live together also tend to divorce or does living
together precipitate divorce?"
Andrea Queale, 30, of St. Bernard believes a relationship should move from
dating to living together to marriage. She thinks such a progression may
eventually drive down divorce rates.
"When you're dating, you're kind of on your best behavior," says Mrs.
Queale, 30. "It's hard to be on your best behavior 24 - 7. Your (true self)
is gonna shine through."
The Scales lived together first - but for different reasons.
For Bridget, it was a matter of convenience. They planned to marry. Living
together simply gave them the opportunity to save money for the wedding and
For Stoney, the issue was compatibility.
"In order for me to totally commit, I have to know who (the person) is all
the time, not just for a nice little visit," Mr. Scales says.
When they moved in, they discovered differences: He likes a baking- soda
brand of toothpaste; she leaves a messy cap. But they found they not only
loved each other, but they also could live with each other, an important
distinction, Mr. Scales says.
"Everyone's not compatible, even if they love each other."
Maggie Gallagher, co-author of The Case for Marriage, strongly advocates
marriage over cohabitation. Because of the sense of permanence intrinsic in
marriage, couples can plan for a future, mesh their finances and share
expectations of faithfulness and fidelity, she says.
"When they're not marrying, they're holding out the possibility that
someone else may come along," Mrs. Gallagher says.
More single mothers
When Deborah Owsley got pregnant, she thought about marriage. Then she
dismissed it. It's not that the Springfield Township woman wouldn't prefer
having a husband, but it hasn't worked out, she says.
"I thought, 'I can handle this.' Sure, it wasn't going to be easy. I was
just willing to do it," says Ms. Owsley, 42, a human resources
professional. "I'm secure in who I am. I make a decent living, maybe not
tons of money, but I can take care of a child."
Even though contraception and abortion are available, 40 percent of
children born in Hamilton County in 1998 were to unwed mothers. In the city
of Cincinnati, the percentage was 58. And it's not teen pregnancy driving
the increase. In Cincinnati, unwed mothers in 1979 accounted for only 23
percent of all mothers ages 22 to 34. By 1998, 45 percent of mothers ages
22 to 34 were unwed.
Some women, like Ms. Owsley, make the choice to become a single mother. For
others, it's a matter of chance, the result of a reluctant or absent
What is clear is that marriage is less tied to child-rearing today than in
the past. In the 1930s, if you conceived a child out of wedlock, you got
married. Today, that's not a given. A 1999 U.S. Census report says the
percentage of children conceived out of wedlock was nearly the same in the
1930s as in the 1990s. The difference: Children born out of wedlock
The combination of out-of-wedlock births and divorces translates into
nearly 50 percent of white children and two-thirds of African- American
children who are likely to spend some part of their childhood in a
single-parent family, according to a report in the November edition of the
Journal of Marriage and the Family. The latest census figures show nearly a
third of children live with a single parent.
"Divorce is one of the leading causes of poverty, along with out-
of-wedlock births," Dr. Spock says.
In the census bureau's annual poverty report, 28 percent of female- headed
households fall under national poverty guidelines. Nearly one in five
children under the age of 18 also lives in poverty, figures show.
For her book, Mrs. Gallagher interviewed several unwed mothers under the
age of 25.
"They all wanted to get married," she says. "They just didn't see that a
baby is a good reason to get married."
Women are marrying more for love than need, says Andrea Engber, who founded
the National Organization of Single Mothers in 1991 in North Carolina.
"Rather than settling for Mr. Adequate, women are waiting for Mr. Right,"
Ms. Engber says. Women don't want to take care of an immature husband and a
Families without marriage
The combination of postponing marriage, living together and having children
out-of-wedlock has spurred tremendous change in the dynamics of the
Ms. Owsley struggles with "the storybook view of two parents, two kids and
She says, "I have to think of my unit as a family and not get so hung up on
what is and what isn't. I need to instill the confidence that we are a
family - even though it doesn't have all the players the media and world
think it should."
As the family changes, Ms. Owsley believes attitudes should follow.
"Let's recognize that there are different types of families, instead of
saying it should always be this way," she says. "I wish, in the perfect
world, people wouldn't judge single parents."
Ms. Solot calls for new legislation to reflect changing families. Unmarried
couples need protection from discrimination, she says. Health care is
difficult to obtain for men and women who live together and, in many areas,
landlords legally can refuse to rent to unmarried couples.
"In this most recent presidential campaign, I heard a lot of talk about
families," Ms. Solot says. "We need to rewrite our definitions of family,
given that a smaller and smaller percentage of families are structured
A shift toward fewer married couples could alter the political landscape,
Dr. Nock says. Married people tend to be more conservative. Consider the
presidential election: A Portrait of America exit poll showed married
voters leaned toward George W. Bush while single voters chose Al Gore.
Already there are more singles in the population than ever before, Dr. Nock
In 1960, three out of four households contained a married couple. Today,
it's little more than half. American households with single men or women
have risen from 26 percent to 31 percent from 1980 to 1997.
In a society with a growing number of childless singles, it could be harder
to get a school levy passed, Dr. Popenoe says. It stands to reason, he
says, that the fewer people with families, the less the concern about
children. Likewise, legislation on child safety or school reform might have
a lower priority.
Shifts in marriage trends also could affect consumer spending and the
economy, says Dr. George Vredeveld, director of the University of
Cincinnati's Center for Economic Education.
Single people tend to spend more on leisure activities. They go out to eat
more often, to the movies, to the theater. Even housing demands could be
"Non-married people would tend to opt for a different kind of housing,
smaller housing, than the Brady Bunch would," he says.
The economy could even have a role in the lowered marriage rate, Dr.
"Marriage might be more than love and companionship," he says "There is a
good economic basis for marriage."
Married people enjoy the fruits of economies of scale - they pay one
mortgage, water, telephone, cable and electric bill.
"I'm confident that a more affluent society gives people more flexibility
in their choice of lifestyle," he says.
Dr. Vredeveld theorizes a long-term recession could cause the marriage rate
to spike upward; continued affluence could propel the current trend.
Public health issue
Politicians should view marriage as a public health issue, Dr. Nock says.
"For every three divorces, there's one new family created in poverty. The
average duration of poverty is about seven months," he says. "Someone has
to pick up the costs of all those people who fall below the poverty level."
Married couples have the opposite effect on society, he says. They tend to
make more money and save more, which means they also pay more taxes.
A few states already recognize the cost of divorce and are working to shore
up marriage. Arizona and Louisiana have had laws since 1998 that require
couples to decide before marriage what type of divorce they would be
eligible to file.
Couples can choose a "covenant" marriage, which means that should they
choose divorce, they would have to prove fault or specific wrongdoing.
Otherwise, couples can choose no-fault divorce, an easier process to end a
Florida passed a Marriage and Preservation Act in 1998, which requires high
school students to take a marriage skills and education course, Ms. Sollee
says. Couples who have taken the course also get a discount on their
marriage application fees.
Oklahoma set aside $10 million of its state surplus this year for projects
and institutions that support marriage, and Arizona in April approved a $1
million initiative for community-based education programs.
There are no similar proposals in Ohio, Kentucky or Indiana, says Diane
Sollee, founder and director of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and
Couples Education in Washington, D.C., whose organization tracks marriage
initiatives throughout the country.
Beyond the economic and political impact are the intangible benefits of
For the Hawkinses, it's a life of shared history and an extended family
that fills the backyard when they gather together.
The joy for the Scaleses is planning a future together, looking toward the
days when their Kennedy Heights house is filled with the sounds of children
For Jennifer and Brian Frye, their wedding a week ago consumated 18 months
of friendship and love.
"I'm very old-fashioned," says Mr. Frye, his arm draped around his bride.
"This is a one-time thing. There is no divorce. Forever's a very long
As views on marriage continue to shift, Dr. Nock says some of these
intangible benefits may be at risk. He points to numerous studies that show
married people generally tend to be happier, live longer, and are less
likely to commit crimes. The same is true for the children raised by
married parents, he says.
"If society goes from being one with more marriages to one where there's
less, then you're likely to see a little more poverty and an increase in
health problems," he says. "You could probably expect to see more
unemployment, less earnings and less educational attainment."
If the trends continue, the United States could head in the direction of
Europe, Dr. Poponoe says. There will be fewer marriages, more cohabitation
and lower birth rates.
Still, "we can't really know what the effect will be on human lives," he
Dr. Robert Emery, director of the University of Virginia's Center for
Children, Families and the Law, maps the benefits and the downsides to the
Changing attitudes toward marriage afford more opportunity to escape an
unfulfilling relationship and allow people to assume different roles in
life, including unmarried partner, single parent or spouse.
On the downside, he says, unmarried couples can expect to face more
economic troubles, and children often face more struggles.
"It's not the end of society or the downfall of society," Dr. Emery says.
"It's a change in practice and tradition, a change in values."
Dick and Joan Maier have witnessed these changes in the state of matrimony
-- both through 49 years of marriage and from counseling engaged couples at
their church, St. Agnes in Fort Wright.
When the Park Hills, Ky., couple married, people didn't admit if they lived
together first, and single mothers were an anomaly. None of their friends
"We didn't feel it was an option," says Mrs. Maier, 71.
Mr. Maier says young people think of marriage "as moonlight and roses.
Sometimes it's dusk and dandelions."
But those times pass, he says.
"There's never been any question between us of our love for each other."
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