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The State of Our Unions

From the Rutgers National Marriage Project


The Rutgers National Marriage Project announced their results at the 1999 "Smart Marriages, Happy Families Conference" of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education in Arlington, Va.

Benchmark Study

"The State of Our Unions: The Social Health of Marriage in America" is considered to be a benchmark study of the national indicators related to marriage. The report is important because it offers historical and statistical information about marriage over the past four decades in a single source.

"The institution of marriage is in serious trouble," said David Popenoe, report co-author and co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers. "Americans are now less likely to marry than ever before, and those who do marry seem to be less happy than in previous decades. And despite a modest decline in the divorce rate, nearly 50 percent of all marriages are projected to end in divorce or permanent separation."

Decline in Teen Confidence in Marriage

Another concern is the reported decline in teen confidence in marriage. "Young people today want successful marriages, but they are increasingly anxious and pessimistic about their chances for achieving that goal," explained Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, report co-author and co-director of the National Marriage Project.

The report also finds teens are more accepting of alternatives to marriage such as unwed parenthood and cohabitation. The authors think that Americans haven't given up on marriage as a cherished ideal or as a personal life goal.

Quest for a Good Marriage

The quest for a "good" marriage is becoming more difficult and uncertain. "Standards and expectations for marriage have risen to a much higher level than in earlier decades," said Popenoe. "Fewer marriages can meet these standards, and there are fewer social forces holding marriages together."

Key findings of the Study

  • A dramatic decline in marriage. Marriage rates have plummeted to a 40-year low.
  • Couples are having a harder time achieving long-term wedded bliss.
  • Young women are increasingly pessimistic about their chances for successful marriage.
  • Increased pessimism among teens about marriage.
  • The unwed birth rate and the divorce rate have declined modestly.
  • The importance of marriage as a life goal has increased among young people.
The authors state that it's not yet clear if the few positive trends are early signs of a revival of marriage or simply fluctuations in the trends indicating a weakening of marriage.

Yearly Updates

"The State of Our Unions" report will be updated annually by the National Marriage Project which is a nonpartisan, nonsectarian and interdisciplinary initiative dedicated to informing the public on social trends affecting marriage.

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