The Gallup research firm is reporting that the percentage of Americans who believe it is “very important” for a child’s parents to be married has declined dramatically. In 2006, only 49% of Americans believed it was “very important” that a mother and father be legally married when becoming parents. Gallup found that only 29% believe this today! Reversing the question, 23% of Americans in 2006 believed it was “not at all important” for parents to be married when they had a child together. That has risen substantially to 40% today.
Most concerning is the dramatic drop in belief in married parenting among those who regularly attend church. Gallup found that while 65% of weekly church attenders in 2006 believed it was essential for mothers and fathers to be married, that percentage declined to only 45 this year, a full 20-percentage point decline! The comparative numbers for monthly attenders was 59% in 2006 and only 32% this year, a 26-percentage point decline. For those who seldom or never attend, the numbers are 32 and 19% respectively, a 13-point decline. So the greatest drop is found among the most religious. It is well established that those who regularly attend religious services tend to esteem marriage more highly than their more secular neighbors. So, this news is particularly discouraging.
In addition, this report finds that 66% of Americans now believe it is morally fine to have a baby outside of marriage, a substantial increase over the 53% who believed this the first year Gallup asked the question in 2001. Seventy-two percent of U.S. adults consider sex between an unmarried man and woman morally acceptable, up from 53% in 2001.
Does Marriage Really Matter?
These are deeply troubling findings given that the social sciences have consistently demonstrated how important marriage is to healthy child development. The careful scholars at Child Trends, one of the world’s leading secular, research-based advocacy groups dedicated to the well-being of children, find time and again, “Children living with two married adults (biological or adoptive parents) have, in general, better health, greater access to health care, and fewer emotional or behavioral problems than children living in other types of families.” They reject the popular but empty notion that “love makes a family,” adding, “Compared with married couples with children, cohabiting couples with children tend to be younger, less educated, lower–income, and have less secure employment.”
It is also well established that domestic violence against children and their mothers is markedly lower in married homes, regardless of how you measure this. The rate of physical abuse suffered by children is 4 times greater if a mother is merely living with the child’s biological father, rather than legally married to him. That rate is 10 times greater if her live-in partner is unrelated to the child. Marriage has been consistently shown in the research to be a tremendous safety asset for all involved.
Poverty, which drives down so many other important child well-being indicators such as access to health care, a healthy diet, one’s daily needs, schools and neighborhood safety, better educational opportunities, a less stressful home life just to name a few, is consistently and dramatically lower, not only when there are two parents in the home, but two married parents! The differentials are nearly half between cohabiting and married homes.
Scholars at the Brookings Institute, a center-left Washington D.C.-based think tank find overall stability is central to a child’s sense of security and that only a quarter of homes established upon marriage break up before the child’s twelfth birthday, while a full two-thirds of cohabiting parents do so. This is generally true across cultures around the globe. Also, births to married mothers are much more likely to be intentional, thus increasing the warmth and attentiveness of both the mother and father’s parenting.
Marriage is certainly much more than one life-style choice among many. It is more than just a romantic feeling or a personal, moral conviction for sexual relationships. Marriage makes a tremendous difference in all the most important area of our lives because it establishes a good, firm, clear foundation for life for ourselves, our partner, our children and extended family. This new Gallup data means that increasingly people are losing sight of that which is best for them, their family and their neighbors.
A fuller exploration of the compelling research demonstrating this fact, most of it conducted by scholars who lean Blue politically, is presented in this summary
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