The Decline in Marriage and Rise of Cohabitation

Recently, I scanned back over some essays written long ago… I realized, “Man, I used to go for it…I wasn’t afraid of addressing tough topics. What’s happened to me?”  Perhaps in my youth I was a bit more excited to make waves- now I’m constantly concerned about drowning in a tidal wave of angry comments. But, I don’t think that’s completely wrong – like to mature and hopefully speak with a better balance of gentleness and truth. There is still a part of me that misses taking time to research and compile and write and rewrite and arrange and weave together a complex, down and dirty essay. In the next few posts, I’ll be sharing some past articles in hopes of inspiring some future questions or topics you guys would like explored. I hope you’ll take a few min to dive into this first article, as well as take a moment at the end to reflect on your thoughts. Growth seems to happen most often in my life when I’m challenged, which is why I agree with Dr. Benjamin Carson when he says…

“What we need to do in this PC world is forget about unanimity of speech and unanimity of thought and we need to concentrate on being respectful to those people with whom we disagree.” 

Let’s keep challenging each other by asking great questions and ultimately knowing, we will not all agree. I hope we can still appreciate a new school of thought and share our opinions respectfully. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

The Decline in Marriage and Rise of Cohabitation

Since 1970, the marriage rate in the United States has plummeted by nearly a third. At the same time, the number of unmarried, cohabitating couples increased over 1200%.[i] Today, the marriage rate continues to drop. I believe that there are many factors affecting such a dramatic change. However, it seems that all of them stem from just one: the number of people who regularly attend church has been rapidly declining since the sixties. Currently, it is approximately twenty percent.[ii] If the present trend continues, the percentage of the population who attends will be almost half of what it is today. Could it be just a coincidence?

On April 8, 1966, Time Magazine’s cover story posed the question, “Is God dead?” In the article an obituary for God published by a student magazine was cited. It read: “God, creator of the universe, principal deity of the world’s Jews, ultimate reality of Christians and most eminent of all divinities, died late yesterday during major surgery undertaken to correct a massive diminishing influence.”[iii] Since the sixties- the time of the “Woodstock Generation” who preached “sex, drugs, and rock and roll”-the Judeo Christian values our country was founded on have been replaced with a “new morality.” People were quick to adopt this new easy going concept that stated, “If there is no God there can be no absolutes. Right is whatever each individual thinks it is, and the same rule applies to wrong. Each person sets his own standard of morality.”[iv] This attitude prompted the “sexual revolution” and with it came the annihilation of the “traditional family.”[v]

In 1979, J.D. Unwin talked about the consequences of a sex-crazed culture. In an article he wrote for the Herald of Holiness he stated:

“The energy which holds a society together is sexual in nature. When a man is devoted to one woman and one family, he is motivated to build, save, protect, plan, and prosper on their behalf. However, when his sexual interests are dispersed and generalized, his effort is invested in the gratification of sensual desires.”[vi]

It seems that in our society, women and men alike have allowed their efforts to be sucked away from serving each other, as Jesus preached, and sucked into satisfying our own wishes. God is love; therefore, he has the keys to how to love someone else. He also created marriage, so he knows how to make it work. In Ephesians 5:25 the Bible states: “Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage” (MSG). This is not at all what our culture preaches; today, it’s all about me, myself, and I.

This is apparent by the overwhelmingly amount of people fixated on success. It used to just be men that were obsessed with earning that promotion- or more importantly that raise. These days about sixty percent of women work, while that number is over seventy percent for men. With so many people focused on their own careers, the opportunity for people to become wrapped up in their jobs is more present than ever. [vii] If the number one priority in our society is personal success, who wants to put in the extra effort it takes to have a family?

One man, on a site titled NoMarriage.com, expresses a common sentiment: “The happiest person alive is someone who isn’t a prisoner dependent on another human being…We only have eighty or so years on this rock to achieve true freedom.”[viii]

To him, and many like him, it’s all about themselves and the here and now: live up your life; do whatever you want- just make sure you’re happy.

Not everyone avoids marriage altogether though. In fact many people try, and try again, and again. In the early 1980’s, the United States granted the greatest number of divorces in our nation’s history.[ix] It is estimated that 40-50% of children born in the U.S. during this time experienced parental divorce. Meanwhile, in the late eighties and early nineties, teen sexual activity, teen pregnancy, births to teenage mothers, and out of wedlock births rose to the highest number in our nation’s history. The dominos are continuing to tumble today.

This domino effect began with America’s diminishing prominence on Christian values, and led to our culture becoming self obsessed, more accepting of divorce, and thus, more accepting of cohabitation as an alternative to marriage, or even a precursor. All of this seems to stem from a cycle that was set in motion in the sixties. Children of divorcees deal with the effects long after their childhood.

Women who experience parental divorce have a sixty percent higher divorce rate than their counterparts, while men whose parents divorce have a thirty-five percent higher divorce rate than those whose parents remain married.[x]

It has been said that “adult children of divorce feel more pessimistic about their chances of life-long marriage…”[xi] and rightly so-currently, the divorce rate in America is fifty percent.[xii]

With these kinds of numbers, it is no wonder that this generation is leery of tying the knot. Of course, it has not stopped people from attempting to tip toe around a binding commitment. Between 1990 and 2004, the number of unmarried couples living together increased 72%.[xiii] Cohabitation has been the alternative of choice. It allows people to avoid commitment, and still do all the things that married couples do- plus guarantees no messy divorce.

However, couples who cohabit have an 80% greater chance that their relationship will end. (40% breakup before they marry; the other 40% divorce within ten years of marrying.)[xiv]

As Chuck Colson says, “Cohabitation- It’s training for divorce.” [xv]

With one in every two marriages ending it seems that these days failure is a given. CNN interviewed a couple who had been married for 50 years, to find out how they made half a century. Bishop Nathaniel Linsey along with his wife Mae Linsey stated:

“…marriage can be beautiful and fulfilling, but you have to make it happen. And it has to be a partnership; a partnership between the two of you. But most of all, it’s a partnership between you and your spouse and God. You keep God in your life because you’re in cooperation, you’re in a partnership, you’re in a commitment, you’re in a covenant with God and your partner and yourself, and you have to have a higher will than that of your own, seeking to please God, seeking to please each other, and not just trying to please yourself. If you seek that higher will to bring about love and unity and oneness and fulfill that higher will — which means that you’re not living for yourself, you’re living for each other.”[xvi]

Statistics echo the Linseys’ comments. Results from the General Social Survey show that the divorce rate of couples who never attended church was 49%, whereas the divorce rate of couples who attended church weekly was 28%.[xvii] According to sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia, married couples who attend church together tend to be happier than couples who rarely or never attend services. He stated, “Attending church only seems to help couples when they attend together, but when they do, they are significantly happier in their marriages, and they are much less likely to divorce, compared to couples who do not attend church. I would say that church attendance is a beneficial component of marriage when it is done together.”[xviii]

Wilcox concludes that church attendance is key because as a married couple “you need the consistent message, the accountability, and the support a church community can provide to really benefit from religious faith.”[xix]

Statistics, surveys, and personal testimonies all seem to agree- but could it just be coincidence still? I do not believe so. Those who uphold Christian values have a higher marriage success rate because they know what it takes to make marriage work, and consistently seek to live how Jesus taught.

Afterword: 

Please keep in mind this article was written in 2007, my senior year of high school. Therefore, some statistics may be a bit different. I also would like to emphasize that this article is not intended to predict that if you cohabitated prior to marriage, you are destined for divorce. No way is that the case. More than anything I would desire for you to have the best marriage possible. Jesus said, ” I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) Therefore, my prayer is that Jesus would be a part of your life and marriage. He is the Wonderful Counselor, Almighty Savior, and lover of our souls. For more info about God’s plan for marriage, check out the article “Why Get Married?

With love,

Katie

3 thoughts on “The Decline in Marriage and Rise of Cohabitation

  1. I am not sure I’d agree completely with Wilcox’s conclusion on the connection between church attendance and having a stable marriage. I guess that comes down to an proper theological understanding of what church actually is. I say this because there are plenty of examples where a (religious) church has effectively destroyed a marriage because of interference – unintended or otherwise. Recently I have been wondering about this theory I have which suggests that marriage today is now based on economics rather than theology. For instance marriage now appears to be between a bank (mortgage) and two people. Subsequently marriage becomes a transactional relationship – ”what’s in it for me?” – ”what can I take to benefit me as opposed to the Judeo-Christian ethos of what can I give that will benefit you?”. Essentially a mortgage is the new marriage covenant. Consequently what defines, or is used to measure the health of that marriage is the couples financial status and the mood of the bank. Ergo keeping the bank happy is the primary key to a successful and ”secure marriage”. (which raises other questions about whether or not this is a return to the dowry’s connected with feudalism). For the most part I agree Katie – well done, great read. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. This is a great topic. Because as of this day and age, there are no clear cut answers. This topic shows how the world has been changing vastly since the first research cited in this essay, from 2007 when it was written, and now standing at 2013.

    Being able to connect dots and create connects between different stats and surveys has increased vastly since the age of the internet. Information is spread to us in an instant and we are able to see and read about thought/perspectives/events/etc.. in a flash. I can barely remember life pre-internet days, and can only imagine how information moved along across the nation.

    With limited information channels(referring to pre-1960s), people’s awareness couldn’t stretch to the depths of what we are able to reach. The famous line, “Ignorance is bliss” is very true in this example. (Ignorance = not being aware of all that is happening on this planet) With limited knowledge, people only knew a few roads in this life, which the most popular one happened to be, graduate, job, marriage, kids, etc…

    As in this essay, you can slowly see a timeline from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s that contains vital information on how marriage has been declining as the decades past. To me, I wouldn’t say that the loss of the Christian religion is the main downfall of marriage. In my mind there are many factors that accumulate to create that downfall, but I believe that, information, would be hovering around the top spot.

    example: When I was 8, I had no clue that there was an entire culture or population living and growing on the opposite side of the planet. Today, an 8 year old has access to learning new languages, seeing video of world disasters, and/or basically just having vast power under his finger-tips.

    Having that information to affirm to yourself that you can achieve your wildest dreams have people working hard and chasing them. Relationships take a vast amount of time and effort (which I’m still learning.) I don’t doubt, Katie, when she said that, “Those who uphold Christian values have a higher marriage success rate because they know what it takes to make marriage work…” – I can totally believe that. On the flip-side: Those individuals may rank being married and staying married higher on their “list” than those who want to put more resources into the thought pattern of, “you only live once, I need to put everything into this so that I can reach/live my life’s goal.”

    Nevertheless, a great essay that makes you ponder about how this world will change in the next few years or even a decade. I can’t wait for it to all unfold.

    Thanks for sharing Katie.

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