Family Trends

Pressures on Married Life Continue to Grow

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By Father John Flynn

ROME, JAN. 22, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Recent data reveals that marriage and family life are under pressure in various countries. In the United States 51% of women reported in 2005 that they live without a spouse, according to the New York Times on Jan. 16. The figure is up from 49% five years earlier.

The percentage of women living with a spouse varies according to race. Citing Census Bureau data, the article said that only 30% of black women reported living with a spouse, as opposed to 60% of Asian women. In the middle of the spectrum were Hispanic women, 49%, and non-Hispanic white women, 55%.

The statistics consider women over 15, who number more than 117 million. Out of this total, 63 million are married. The number declines, however, to 57.5 million once the number of women who are separated, or whose husbands do not live at home are taken into account.

This affirmation by New York Times article depends, however, on the way statistics are interpreted. Women whose husbands are away at work, or are in the military are included in the category of women living without a spouse. Moreover, by including all women over 15, the number of non-married is inflated due to the numbers of teenagers who would not normally be expected to have married.

The situation is similar in England, according to data published late last year. There are now more single, divorced and widowed women than wives in England and Wales, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), reported the British Telegraph on Dec. 19.

The data reveals that between 1996 and 2004, the number of divorced and single women rose by 1.5 million. According to the ONS, in 2003 there were 11 million wives, compared with 10.89 million single, divorced or widowed women. The tables were turned the following year. In 2004 official data shows that married women fell to 10.93 million, while single, divorced or widowed women rose to 11.09 million.

Young people, particularly women, are also increasingly postponing marriage. In the early 1970s, the Telegraph article reported, 85% of women were married before they turned 30, in comparison to current statistics that show that fewer than 33% of women in their late 20s are married.

Rates of teenage pregnancy are also very high in Britain. According to a study published by the Trust for the Study of Adolescence last year, one of the reasons could be that adolescent girls see becoming a mother as an attractive alternative to staying in school, or working at a low-paid job.

Reporting on the study July 16, the Independent, a British newspaper, noted that the study challenges the assumption that teenage pregnancies are due to ignorance about contraception.

In fact, teen births are closely related to socio-economic factors, with girls from low-income families being 10 times more likely to become teenage mothers than those from affluent backgrounds. The study results were based on interviews with 13- to 22-year-old mothers living in six impoverished areas of Britain. The Independent noted that welfare benefits to teen mothers costs the British government tens of millions of pounds a year.

Marriage plateau

In Canada the number of marriages has reached a plateau, according to data published by government-run Statistics Canada on Jan. 17. The organization reported that in 2003 a total of 147,391 couples were married that year. The number was only 653 more than the previous year, and just 773 up from 2001.

Statistics Canada reported a marriage rate of 4.7 marriages for every 1,000 persons in 2003. They noted that this is much lower than in the United States, which has a rate of 7.5. The lowest rate of marriage was in the province of Quebec, 2.8 per thousand. The report said this is due partly to the high level of cohabitation among couples. Data from the 2001 census indicated that 29.8% of all couples lived in common law relationships in Quebec.

The statistics from 2003 also showed that singles continue to put off getting married. In Canada (excluding Ontario), the average age of persons marrying for the first time was 30.6 years for men and 28.5 years for women. Compared to the situation 30 years ago, the average age for a first marriage has risen by 5 years for both sexes.

Family life is also faltering in France, observed an article published by the Washington Post on Nov. 21. In 2004, the most recent year for which figures are available, the marriage rate in France was 4.3 per 1,000 persons. The only European countries with rates lower than France were Belgium, at 4.1, and Slovenia, with 3.3, the article noted.

Births outside marriage are now well over the halfway mark, accounting for 59% of all first-born French children in 2005.

Information from Ireland reveals problems for families there as well. According to an article published by the Web site www.CatholicIreland.net on Nov. 4, the country's rapid growth in wealth and prosperity over the past 15 years "is paralleled with rising divorce rates, lower fertility rates, and an increase in children born outside of marriage."

Data published in the country's Central Statistics Office Yearbook for 2006 revealed that the number of separated persons (including divorced) increased from 87,800 in 1996 to 133,800 in 2002. Divorce was legalized in 1997.

The number of cohabiting couples, while low compared to many other countries, has more than doubled. Cohabiting couples accounted for 8.4% of all family units in 2002, up from 3.9% in 1996. Births outside marriage also increased, reaching 32% of all births in 2005, compared with just over 25% in 1998.

Marriage advantages

The decline in traditional married life comes when studies continue to confirm the advantages of stable married families, for both parents and children. A study published in May 2006 in the journal Demography observed that cohabiting unions tend to be short-lived, with about a half ending within a year

Furthermore, cohabitation is often not a stepping-stone to marriage, especially among poor women, who marry within five years less than one-third of the time.

Being married helps you live longer, reported the Scotsman newspaper Aug. 10. A study of almost 67,000 adults found that those who never married had the greatest chance of suffering an early death.

The study by Robert Kaplan and Richard Kronick of the University of California was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

They found that the marriage advantages could not be explained by personal habits, such as smoking and drinking: They said that social isolation may be the culprit.

A study of 20,000 Australians also found big advantages for marriage, reported the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper April 12. The study carried out by researchers at the University of Melbourne found that a stable family life leads to better education, higher household wealth, and often a better chance of children growing up and entering into a happy relationship themselves.

Marriage was also defended by Leah Ward Sears, chief justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia, in an opinion article published by the Washington Post Oct. 30.

Some family law experts, she observed, argue the need for laws that will support "a wide variety of family forms." Based on her judicial experience, however, Sears commented that the traditional form of marriage "has long been associated with an impressively broad array of positive outcomes for children and adults alike."

Legal disputes due to family fragmentation are soaring, Sears added. In Georgia, domestic relations cases now account for 65% of all cases at the Superior Court level. Not only does this impose a heavy burden on judicial and government resources, but it is a "tragedy" for children.

"Accepting the decline of marriage as inevitable means giving up on far too many of our children," Sears concluded. A warning valid for many countries.