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Rate of happy marriages slides

By Cheryl Wetzstein
THE WASHINGTON TIMES


Marriage in America has gone from better to worse, with fewer couples marrying and fewer still saying their lives together are wedded bliss, according to a report released Thursday.
     In the early 1970s, 53 percent of people in their first marriages reported they were "very happy." By 1996, the number had fallen to 37.8 percent.
     In the past, more than 90 percent of young women married at least once. Today, the marriage rate is at a 40-year low, and demographers predict that 85 percent of young Americans will never marry.
     As marriage has faltered, rates of divorce, cohabitation and bearing children out of wedlock have soared to record high levels. Today, many young people -- especially young women -- doubt that they can achieve a satisfying long-term marriage with the same partner and are strongly considering cohabiting arrangements over marriage.
     Despite the discouraging news about marriage, "it is too soon to write its obituary," say researchers David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, leaders of the National Marriage Project and authors of the report, "The State of Our Unions 1999."
     The researchers, who are based at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., see signs that the nation may be "on the cusp of a turnaround" on marriage issues.
     "This is not the first time . . . that marriage has seemed headed for the dustbins and then recovered," say Mr. Popenoe and Mrs. Whitehead. "It's time for a "national discussion about marriage," Mr. Popenoe says.
     The National Marriage Project's report is one of several papers released this weekend by marriage experts at the Smart Marriages, Happy Families conference at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Crystal City, Va. The conference is sponsored by the District of Columbia-based Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education (CMFCE).
     "We need more straight talk about the value of marriage," said Utah Gov. Michael O. Leavitt, who with his wife, Jacalyn, spoke at the opening session last night. "If the institution of marriage ever falls from grace, our society will fall as well because there is no institution that can take its place."
     Mr. Leavitt has started a state commission on marriage to raise awareness of the importance of marriage to adults, children and society.
     The report also included some promising findings:
  • A slight increase in the number of young Americans who say that having a good marriage is an "extremely important" life goal.
  • The recent decline in teen birthrates and stabilization of unwed birthrates.
  • A slow decline in the divorce rate since 1980.
  • The emergence of grass-roots marriage movements.
  • A renewed interest in marriage skills and education classes for adults and students.

     Marriage experts at this weekend's Smart Marriages conference will address ways couples can handle conflicts, time-management issues, infidelity and problems in intimacy and communication.
     They will also ask for more research and better government data collection on marriage. Federal agencies have "dropped the ball" by stopping their collection of state marriage data and eliminating "marital status" from the 2000 Census form that goes to every household, Mr. Popenoe says.
     Pro-marriage advocates are also urging Congress to eliminate the "marriage penalties" that affect two-earner married couples and married couples using the Earned Income Tax Credit.
     Americans believe in marriage and want to be married, but they haven't been educated about how to have a successful marriage, says CMFCE Director Diane Sollee. "The good news," she added, is that marriage "takes simple skills, not rocket science."

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Reprinted with permission from The Washington Times.
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