A headline like this one is tempting fodder for many comedians. But it's no joke. According to the Institute for American Values, the institution of marriage has been in a steady decline for the last four decades. No surprise there. What may be surprising for some to consider is that the private act of marriage has such a great impact publicly. In an article titled, "For Better or Worse: Report Says Marriage's Best Days Have Gone By," the Washington Post reported:
The U.S. Marriage Index, the brainchild of David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values, seeks to quantify the health of marriage in the United States in the same way economists use leading indicators to parse the state of the country's economy.
"We're just proposing a way of numerically capturing these trends so that people can see them," he says.
The index combined five statistics -- the percentage of adults between the ages of 20 and 54 who are married, the percentage of adults who reported being a "very happy" with their marriages, the percentage of first marriages intact, the percentage of births to married parents and the percentage of children living with their own married parents -- to reach a composite score illustrating the state of America's nuptial unions. In 1970, that score totaled 76.2; by 2008 it had dropped to 60.3.
Almost 90 percent of children were born to married parents in 1970; last year it was 60 percent. Of adults between ages 20 and 54, 78.6 percent were married in 1970, compared with 57.2 percent in 2008. The portion of first marriages that remained intact dropped from 77.4 percent in 1970 to 61.2 percent last year.
According to Blankenhorn, statistics show that children who grow up in homes with married parents where their parents are "less likely to live in poverty, to have emotional or behavioral problems, to engage in premature sexual activity, to use drugs or commit suicide."
"Every single pathology or problem or difficulty a child can experience -- every single one -- growing up outside of a married-couple home elevates the risk," he says.
Blankenhorn's hope is that the index, a collaborative effort by 15 academics, researchers and policy experts intended for release every other year, will become a bellwether signaling the direction marriage is headed in the United States. And that it will galvanize concern and support for the institution.
"It's impossible, really, to make progress unless you have some shared understanding," he says. "There's no disagreement among us about high rates of unemployment -- nobody runs around saying it's fine to have 20 percent of us unemployed. But we really are not at that level of agreement about marriage."
I like Blankenhorn's economic analogy. But as I wrote this post, many single parents came to mind. I think it is worth pointing out that statistics are helpful to analyze large trends. But God's grace freely interrupts those patterns! So if you are a single parent and tempted to fear or worry, I advise that you turn those temptations into prayer and worship. God is the great Redeemer and his work of grace covers our many sins, failings, and weaknesses. While I believe we need to soberly consider the larger trends here, it's also good to keep in mind that if you are a child of God, you are no mere statistic.