The Three Year Itch | Pew Study on Changing Views on Marriage - 7/07
smartmarriages at lists101.his.com
Tue Jul 10 16:35:21 EDT 2007
- LISTEN TO NPR ON "THE THREE YEAR ITCH"
- THE SHELF LIFE OF BLISS
- THE PEW STUDY: THE CHANGING VIEWS OF MARRIAGE
- LISTEN TO NPR ON "THE THREE YEAR ITCH"
Paul Amato, Sam Roberts, Kelly Musick and I were on NPR's "On Point" with
Tom Ashbrook on the "Three-Year Itch" based on Roberts' NY Times article
about how marital happiness declines rather immediately during the first 3
years. Paul and I both talked about educating the public about the dangers
of expecting romantic love to last over time along with ways to keep
marriage healthy and strong, and Paul made a specific plug for marriage
education. Ashbrook handled the subject intelligently. I think the list
would enjoy listening. - Jan Levine
To listen, go to:
<http://www.onpointradio.org/shows/2007/07/20070709_b_main.asp> and click
on the WINDOWS or REAL player option just above the picture.
- THE SHELF LIFE OF BLISS
The study compared married and cohabiting couples. Would be nice if they
could compare couples that have taken a marriage education class but guess
that's a long way off. Nice that Amato emphasized couples needs for
guidelines about what to expect in marriage plus the skills to navigate and
stay on course. -diane
The Shelf Life of Bliss
By SAM ROBERTS
The New York Times
July 1, 2007
FORGET the proverbial seven-year itch.
Not to disillusion the half million or so June brides and bridegrooms who
were just married, but new research suggests that the spark may fizzle
within only three years.
Researchers analyzed responses from two sets of married or cohabitating
couples: one group was together for one to three years, the other for four
to six years.
While the researchers could not pinpoint a precise turning point the
seven-year itch, as popularized in the play and film about errant husbands,
was largely a theory they found distinct differences between the groups.
³We know the earlier ones are happier,² said Prof. Kelly Musick, a
University of Southern California sociologist. ³The initial boost that
marriage seems to provide fades over time.²
Research also showed that the median duration of first marriages that end in
divorce remains a little more than seven years, which means that those
couples will likely spend more than half their married lives less happy than
they were when they cut the first slice of wedding cake.
³Some folks start getting less happy at the wedding reception,² said Larry
Bumpass, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who wrote the
study with Professor Musick.
Is there a three-year itch?
³There is not necessarily anything magical about year three,² Professor
Musick said. ³We know that typically when marriages end in divorce, half end
before seven or so years and half end after. This is the same idea.²
Their analysis, which included unmarried, cohabitating partners but not gay
couples, was based on the National Survey of Families and Households, a
national sample of 9,637 racially diverse households conducted by the
University of Wisconsin Center for Demography and Ecology. The research,
coupled with a survey released today by the Pew Research Center, provides an
intriguing look at an ethereal part of marriage. Everyone knows the first
blush of love is the strongest, but measuring how long it will last and
whether that bliss is unique to marriage has always fallen more into the
category of ³here¹s what my mother says² than something quantifiable.
In an academic paper they completed last year that analyzed earlier findings
from the national surveys, Professors Musick and Bumpass compared responses
to questions about how couples described their relationships, how often they
fought and over what, and how they would envision their lives if they
The research doesn¹t address whether blissful 21st-century relationships are
any more or less enduring than they were in the 20th century, so it may be
that happy coupledom always came with a three-year expiration date. With
nonmarital childbearing more common and women more economically independent,
³What¹s keeping people together is their love and commitment for each
other,² Professor Musick said, ³and that¹s fragile.²
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the findings have some foundation.
Bart Blasengame, a 33-year-old freelance writer from Portland, Ore., was
with his former fiancée for three years. ³I felt like, by year three, we
were both forcing it,² he recalled.
³It¹s the whole cliché of pursuit,² he said. ³Your dates are planned out
like some Drew Barrymore romantic comedy with unicorns and rainbows. By year
two, we were cruising along, living together, relatively happy. But from a
growth standpoint things had started to atrophy. We were happy, content is a
better word, but there was no spark.²
But the evolving rules of marriage provide both opportunities and pitfalls,
Professor Musick said. ³There may be greater potential to find fulfillment
in relationships,² she said, ³but that possibility and the expectations that
come from it may lead to greater disappointment for some² if the
expectations aren¹t fulfilled.
Her bleak statistical assessment of the durability of enchantment is one of
several new findings about relationships and marriage in America. In a word,
the State of the Unions is precarious.
Even with the nation¹s population increasing, the number of married
Americans age 21 to 54 has declined slightly since 2000 apparently for the
first time, as measured by the Census Bureau. In the first decade of the
21st century, the proportion of Americans in every racial and ethnic group
who were never married has continued to grow by double digits.
The United States is far from embracing Europe¹s postmarriage model or its
much higher rates of nonmarital births. Most Americans surveyed this year by
the Pew center, in fact, still say marriage is an ideal, if a more elusive
While roughly 9 in 10 American adults eventually marry, the time they spend
married has declined sharply, in part because they are marrying later and
living longer as widows. Moreover, the Pew survey found that 79 percent of
Americans say a woman can lead a complete and happy life if she remains
single. The comparable figure for men was 67 percent.
While married couples generally say they are more satisfied with their
lives, younger adults are far less likely to stigmatize alternatives such as
living together and having children out of wedlock, according to the Pew
telephone survey of 2,020 adults, which is available at www.pewresearch.org.
The Pew survey found that nearly half of Americans in their 30s and 40s have
cohabitated. Among all adults, a minority (44 percent) said that living
together without getting married was bad for society (only 10 percent said
it was a good thing), although the Pew survey concluded that ³by providing
an alternative to marriage, cohabitation for some appears to diminish rather
than strengthen the impulse to legally marry.²
In general, married people are presumed to be happier and better off, but
Professor Bumpass, who found that most marriages nowadays are preceded by
cohabitation, and Professor Musick questioned whether those benefits were
unique to marriage and whether they are stable over time.
³We conclude that the boundaries between marriage and cohabitation may
become increasingly blurred,² Professor Musick said.
As for the three-year itch, Byron Lester, a 49-year-old information
technology administrator from Bloomfield, Conn., is well suited to consider
it. Married three years and two months ago, he said the secret to success is
often in the details. ³Little things really do mean a lot,² he said.
Mr. Lester said he abandoned his cherished newspaper reading during dinner
because that is when his wife most enjoys conversation. ³And I think she¹s
adapted to watching more sports,² he said.
Marriage rates vary widely by race, ethnicity, education, income (63 percent
of white women over 18 who make more than $100,000 are married; 25 percent
of poor black women are). Soaring divorce rates have leveled off, most
experts agree, but one reason may be that the dissolution of live-in
relationships are not taken into account.
Raoul Felder, the celebrity divorce lawyer whose favorite aphorism is that
marriage is the first step on the road to divorce, says marital longevity
has fallen victim to the velocity of our souped-up society.
³We¹re all addicted to a television-clicker lifestyle,² he said.
But a dissipation of that all-enveloping rapture is no reason to give up on
a relationship, many people insist.
³At times, sure, I¹m bored,² said Sean Meehan, 51, a therapist from West
Hartford who has been married for 14 years. ³Who isn¹t? But you talk about
it with your spouse and you can switch things up.²
³People are so used to everything being disposable,² he said. ³They throw
out diapers, lighters, coffee cups, so they can throw out a marriage.²
Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the sex adviser, cautioned, too, that the notion of a
three-year itch can become self-fulfilling. ³How dangerous it is to say
something like that,² she said. ³From now on, everyone who¹s getting married
will say it will last three years and then I will have to look for someone
Or, as Paul D. Neuthaler, a divorce mediator in Westchester, said: ³The
fizzle tends to bubble out within a three- to five-year period when the
basis for the marriage was purely physical or related to some attraction not
closely associated with each partner¹s essential character.²
Another new study, by Prof. Evelyn Lehrer of the University of Illinois at
Chicago, contradicts the chestnut that women who marry later are more likely
to divorce. She found that with both men and women marrying later than ever,
later marriages seem to last longer.
Stephanie Coontz, director of public education at the Council on
Contemporary Families, a research group, said: ³We¹re getting close to a
180-degree turn in many of the rules about what makes marriage work and not
work. The marriages of college-educated couples are becoming more stable.²
Professor Musick is happily married herself ³mostly,² she says and will
celebrate her third anniversary this fall. ³My honeymoon,² she mused, ³is
Whatever the trends, marriage and relationships are in an unusual state of
flux, as they were for baby boomers. With so much room to maneuver, younger
couples have fewer firm markers to guide them.
In the film ³Knocked Up,² Ben beseeches his father for advice after his
one-night stand results in a pregnancy.
³I¹ve been divorced three times,² his father replies. ³Why are you asking
Reporting was contributed by Abby Ellin, Carolyn Marshall, Kayleen Schaefer
and Stacey Stowe.
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company
- THE PEW STUDY: THE CHANGING VIEWS OF MARRIAGE
" [the study] . . . underscores a widening gap between parenthood and
marriage . . . Asked about the purpose of marriage, for example, Americans
said by a nearly 3-to-1 ratio that it is the "mutual happiness and
fulfillment" of adults rather than the "bearing and raising of children."
To Be Happy In Marriage, Baby Carriage Not Required
By Donna St. George
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 1, 2007
Children rank as the highest source of personal fulfillment for their
parents but have dropped to one of the least-cited factors in a successful
marriage, according to a national survey to be released today.
In a study that shows how separately marriage and children are viewed,
Americans expressed great passion for their sons and daughters but clearly
did not see them as the glue of their adult relationships.
On a list of nine contributors to success in marriage, children were trumped
by faithfulness, a happy sexual relationship, household chore-sharing,
economic factors such as adequate income and good housing, common religious
beliefs, and shared tastes and interests, the nonprofit Pew Research Center
"Marriage today, like the rest of our lives, is about personal
satisfaction," said Andrew J. Cherlin, a sociology and public policy
professor at Johns Hopkins University, noting that there are mixed
consequences for the changing views of marriage.
"It allows us to grow and change throughout our lives, and most Americans
value that," Cherlin said. "On the other hand, our relationships are much
more fragile, because we think we should leave them if they become
The 88-page report, bringing together demographic trends and survey results
from interviews of 2,020 adults this year, underscores a widening gap
between parenthood and marriage -- at a time when living together out of
wedlock has grown increasingly common and nearly one in four births is to an
As Sarah Vassiliou, 42, of the District described it: "When I think of
marriage, I don't think of children at all. I have them. But with marriage,
I think of a husband and a wife, and I don't think it's the children that
make it work."
Her views are reflected in several statistics. Asked about the purpose of
marriage, for example, Americans said by a nearly 3-to-1 ratio that it is
the "mutual happiness and fulfillment" of adults rather than the "bearing
and raising of children."
When given the list of nine features to consider as part of a successful
marriage, 41 percent of Americans said children were "very important,"
compared with 65 percent in 1990, a 24 percentage-point drop the report
calls "perhaps the single most striking finding from the survey." The other
major difference was in chore-sharing, which went up in importance by 15
percentage points to 62 percent.
This might be explained by a greater emphasis on soul mate relationships in
marriage and an increasing recognition of the stress involved in raising
children, said Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, co-director of the National Marriage
Project at Rutgers University. There is also a more widespread belief that
having children is a choice, she said.
"Marriage and kids were kind of hyphenated before," she said, "and now the
hyphens have been removed."
However, parental love and appreciation are not in dispute.
About 85 percent of parents with children younger than 18 described those
relationships as a top source of personal fulfillment -- slightly more than
relationships with spouses and partners and much more than relationships
with mothers, fathers and friends. Free-time activities, along with careers
and jobs, were cited as the lowest-ranking sources of fulfillment.
And although marriage for the sake of children is on the wane, many parents
talk about how much better a healthy marriage gets when children are added.
In Takoma Park, Dianne Mock, 38, said the decision to marry was not based on
having a baby. At the time, her husband said he did not want children. Now,
nine years later, they have a 15-month-old son, she said, and "it didn't
necessarily improve our marriage -- the marriage was great -- but it opened
up a whole new area."
The Pew report says that blacks and Hispanics were much more likely to list
children as a key to marital success but that both groups are more likely to
have children outside marriage and are less likely to be married in general.
The report also says people with lower education and income levels of any
race or ethnicity were more likely to describe children as being important
to a successful marriage in addition to good housing and adequate income.
Americans expressed a high regard for marriage overall, the report says,
even as it loses ground. Births are up among unmarried mothers, not because
of teens giving birth but because more unmarried women in their 20s are
having children. Nearly half of people in their 30s and 40s have lived with
a partner, the study found. And overall, about half of "cohabiting"
relationships end within five years, the study notes, and those that last
longer often lead to marriage.
Doreen Byrne, 53, a Baltimore nurse who was part of the survey, remains a
believer in marriage despite hers ending in a painful divorce after 23
years. "There aren't a lot of things that people can commit to and stick
with," she said. "It's the fact that it's a constant, and I think that in
our lives we need that; it grounds us."
Not everyone is happy with the changes in family life. More than 65 percent
of Americans say single women having children is bad for society, and 59
percent say the same about unmarried couples. The public is more accepting
of divorce when parents are unhappy with each other.
Nearly 70 percent of those surveyed said a child needs a home with a mother
and a father to grow up happily.
"I feel like marriage is so important for the parents and the kids," said
Temika Stover, 27, of the District, who was interviewed by researchers. "I
feel like life will be so much better if people just do it the right way."
But in her own circumstances, Stover acknowledges a certain reluctance. For
much of the past 11 years, she has lived with the father of her three
children, and they have not married.
"That's a lifetime commitment," she said. "I want to make sure we are strong
enough as one before we sign those papers."
It is that sort of complexity that underlies many of the changes presented
in the study.
David Joyce, 57, of Forestville, who was also interviewed, said his views
have shifted over the years. "I thought children were very important to a
marriage, and then I had kids, and I realized that the two people have to
agree on things, and if they can't, the children aren't going to help at
all," he said. "Having another stress factor isn't a solution."
Joyce, a father of two, has been married 29 years. "Marriage is not a
picnic," he says, but it's worth the bumpy road, the highs and lows -- and
he laments what he sees as a self-centeredness that has taken hold.
"I think what we're running into a lot anymore is people saying, 'It needs
to be about me.' And it doesn't. It needs to be about 'us' or about 'we.'
Anything that's based on a 'me' scenario isn't going to last very long."
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