What happened to the institution of marriage?

Something starling is taking place in our society. According to the latest statistics, for the first time ever, married couples make up less than half (43%) of all households.

That is in sharp contrast to the situation in the 1970s when 78% of adults in the United States were, or had been married. What was happened to change this situation so radically?

Clearly, the traditional family as we known it, with father, mother and children is fading. Certainly it always was recognized that the long-established marriage required adjustments, co-operation, thoughtfulness, and some personal sacrifices, but almost all accepted that because of the benefits and pleasure from a marriage. Going back through the ages, thousands of years and in all lands, people have found that any adaptations in the marital state were very little to pay for the lifetime rewards of a happy marriage.

The peak year for marriage in North America was 1946, the first year after the end of the Second World War. Obviously, many were looking for stability, an “anchor” in a troubled world. Most men were searching for female companionship following the horrors of that conflict.

Nowadays, throughout North America the numbers of unmarried couples, childless households and single-person households are increasing more than those made up of married people with children, and climbing more rapidly compared to the historic norm of married couples with children.

What are noteworthy, too, are other dimensions to those patterns. Heretofore, marriage was almost a universal practice for adults, but also now there are class, income and education components. Brides are more likely to have a post-secondary education than previously. Those with low incomes and only a high-school degree represent a disproportionate share of those living common law.

Those with a post-secondary degree produce less than half the number of children born to mothers with only high school degrees; the latter’s divorce rate is twice as high.

The reasons for the rising number of couples living in common-law relationships are varied. They reflect profound sociological and psychological factors. Increasingly, we are becoming more selfish, choosing to live in a self-absorbed lifestyle, and less willing to accept the burdens of a commitment.

As our economy continues to stagnate and, consequently financial rewards diminish, it is quite possible that old-style marriage will be back in favour. History confirms that.





Bruce Whitestone