The state of our unions: We should be concerned about marriage in our country Print
Written by By Mary C. Uhler, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Aug. 07, 2014 -- 12:00 AM

In cleaning my office, I came across an article I saved from a magazine published in 2007. I admit I’m a packrat, but sometimes I’m glad that I keep things that give me a historical perspective on important issues.

This article was part of a series in the AFA Journal of the American Family Association. Its title is “End of Marria%e? Indicators All Point Down.” The percentage sign (%) in the title is not a mistake, because the story points to a key fact: In October of 2006, for the first time in the history of the United States, the percentage of American households that includes a married couple had slipped into the minority.

That discouraging fact was revealed by the American Community Service, released by the U.S. Census Bureau. It showed that 49.7 percent of more than 111 million households contained a married couple. That percentage was down from the 52 percent of households with a married couple in the year 2000.

Trends reflect the weakening of marriage

The New York Times, in reporting on these findings, said this is part of a long-term trend in which fewer Americans appear to be intent on marrying.

This trend was confirmed by the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, which is now based at the University of Virginia. The project issues an annual document titled “The State of Our Unions.”

Researchers in that project have identified three areas in which trends reflect the weakening of marriage:

The divorce rate. The U.S. divorce rate was almost double in 2007 what it was in 1960. Although the divorce rate has been dropping since around 1980, the danger of divorce remains prevalent. The average couple marrying in recent years will have a lifetime probability of divorce or separation between 40 and 50 percent.

Marriage rate. One reason the divorce rate has been dropping is because the marriage rate has been dropping. It appears that fewer people are getting married in the first place. Why is this happening? There are more people who are cohabiting, there is a small decrease in the tendency of divorced persons to remarry, and there is a clear trend to wait until later in life to get married.

The cohabitation rate. The decline in marriage does not mean that people are giving up on relationships. Instead, they are more likely to live together outside of marriage. Some even have no plans to marry each other.

Church focuses on marriage and family

These trends are among those which will be considered when the World Synod of Bishops meets this fall at the Vatican and during the World Meeting of Families to be held in 2015 in Philadelphia.

Pope Francis has often spoken about the importance of marriage as a sacrament, a divine blessing, and a reflection of God’s love for humanity.

“See how beautiful this love is, how beautiful marriage is, how beautiful the family is, and how much love and closeness we must have for our brothers and sisters who have experienced the calamity of a failure in love,” the pope said earlier this year at his morning Mass as reported by Catholic News Service.

The pope said, “When this love fails — because many times it fails — we must feel the pain of the failure and accompany those who have failed in their love. Not condemn them. Walk alongside them.”

How we can strengthen marriage

Obviously, we need to do more education within our own families, the Church, and our communities on the value and importance of marriage. We have to be sensitive — as our Holy Father points out — to the problems of married couples and help support them. The Church has many resources to help strengthen marriage (see the special Catholic Marriage and Family Life section in the print edition of this week’s Catholic Herald for information on some of those resources).

In addition, the “State of Our Unions” report for 2012 also had some policy suggestions for the president and Congress, such as ending the marriage tax penalty, increasing the child tax credit, requiring pre-marriage education for men and women, and launching community campaigns about the benefits of marriage.

We can all do our part to help strengthen marriage and make sure it grows rather than continues to decline.