(RNS) Marriage is on the decline in American society, with nearly four in 10 people claiming the institution is obsolete, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center.
The Pew survey, conducted in association with Time magazine, shows a shifting definition of marriage and increasing acceptance of cohabitation beyond traditional boundaries of matrimony.
“The young are much more inclined than their elders to view cohabitation without marriage and other new family forms—such as same-sex marriage and interracial marriage—in a positive light,” said the report, which was released Thursday (Nov. 18). Since 1990, cohabitation has nearly doubled, according to the Census Bureau, and the Pew survey showed that 44 percent of adults have lived with an unmarried partner at some point during their lives.
Younger people are also hesitant to get married. In 1960, 68 percent of 20-somethings had tied the knot, but now only one in four have.
The economy has some effect on this trend, especially for those in the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder, since many people seek financial stability before getting married. In 2008, more than half of all adults were married, compared to 72 percent in 1960.
Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Washington-based Family Research Council, took issue with more pessimistic interpretations of the survey.
“A decline in the percentage of adults who are married is largely because people delay marriage, not because young men and women are foregoing marriage completely,” he said.
Marriage is not the only determining factor in who is considered a “family” anymore; now the main factor is children. A majority of Americans agree that single parents with children (86 percent), unmarried couples living together with children (80 percent) and same-sex couples with children (63 percent) are families.
While Americans are more inclusive in their definition of family, almost seven in 10 say single women having children is bad for the society and 61 percent think children need both a mother and a father “to grow up happily.”
People who regularly attend religious services were less likely than other Americans to accept new forms of family. When asked if “new family arrangements are a bad thing” 45 percent of church-goers agreed, compared to 15 percent of those who either rarely or never attend church.
People who attend religious services also favored a traditional arrangement of a working father and a stay-at-home mom over a marriage where both parents work.
The results were based on phone interviews with 2,691 adults, and had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.