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Marriage, but without the baby carriage

July 01, 2007|From the Associated Press

NEW YORK — The percentage of Americans who consider children "very important" to a successful marriage has dropped sharply since 1990, and more now cite the sharing of household chores as pivotal, according to a sweeping new survey.

The Pew Research Center survey on marriage and parenting found that children had fallen to No. 8 on a list of nine factors that people associate with successful marriages -- well behind "sharing household chores," "good housing," "adequate income," a "happy sexual relationship" and "faithfulness."

In a 1990 World Values Survey, children ranked third in importance among the same items, with 65% saying children were very important to a good marriage. Just 41% said so in the new Pew survey.

Chore-sharing was cited as very important by 62% of respondents, up from 47% in 1990.

By a nearly 3-1 margin, those surveyed said the main purpose of marriage is the "mutual happiness and fulfillment" of adults rather than the "bearing and raising of children."

The survey's findings buttress concerns expressed by numerous scholars and familypolicy experts, among them Barbara Dafoe Whitehead of Rutgers University's National Marriage Project.

"The popular culture is increasingly oriented to fulfilling the X-rated fantasies and desires of adults.... " she wrote in a recent report. "Child-rearing values -- sacrifice, stability, dependability, maturity -- seem stale and musty by comparison."

Virginia Rutter, a sociology professor at Framingham (Mass.) State College and board member of the Council on Contemporary Families, said the shifting views may be linked in part to America's relative lack of family-friendly workplace policies such as paid leave and subsidized child care.

"If we value families ... we need to change the circumstances they live in," she said, citing the challenges faced by two-earner couples as they ponder having children.

The survey was conducted by telephone from mid-February through mid-March among a random nationwide sample of 2,020 adults. Its margin of error is 3 percentage points.

Many questions touched on America's high rate of out-of-wedlock births and of cohabitation outside of marriage. The survey noted that 37% of U.S. births in 2005 were to unmarried women, up from 5% in 1960, and found that nearly half of adults in their 30s and 40s had lived with a partner outside of marriage.

In the survey, 71% say the growth in births to unwed mothers is a "big problem." About the same proportion -- 69% -- say a child needs both a mother and a father to grow up happily.

The survey found some predictable patterns -- Republicans and older people were more likely to give conservative answers than Democrats and younger adults. But the patterns in regard to race and ethnicity were more complex.

For example, census statistics show that blacks and Hispanics are more likely than whites to bear children out of wedlock. Yet according to the survey, these groups are more inclined than whites to place a high value on the importance of children to a successful marriage.

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