WASHINGTON – Waiting until age 30 or later to marry doesn't guarantee a better marriage,according to a newly released comprehensive survey on marriage and divorce.
The study,“With this Ring … A National Survey of Marriage in America,” surveyed 1,503 respondents,98 percent of whom expressed support for marriage. Only 2 percent had never married and did not want to.
“We are a very marrying country,” said Norval Glenn,professor at the University of Texas at Austin and author of the study. “But our marriages aren't that successful relative to other parts of the world.”
As the median marrying age for men and women has increased to 27 and 26,the study showed that waiting longer to marry isn't necessarily better. The survey showed ages 23-27 as optimal for marriage.
While teen marriages often fail,respondents who married after their mid-20s often reported they had marriages of “poor or mediocre quality.”
“Those married over the age of 27 had the least amount of success than those that married in their mid-20s,” said Barbara Dafoe Whitehead,a professor of sociology and co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University who reviewed the study. “They tended to be stable,but less happy.”
Nearly half of respondents said they were introduced to their spouses through mutual friends,as opposed to 6 percent who met at a bar.
The study was sponsored by the National Fatherhood Initiative,which was encouraged by the study's findings that 97 percent of those surveyed said fathers are just as important as mothers in raising children,and 89 percent said children are better off in a two-parent household.
According to the report,younger respondents revealed a trend that some observers consider a threat to marriage. Their “anti-marriage” ideas included the approval of cohabitation before marriage as well as a belief that divorced parents can raise children as effectively as married parents.
People who cohabit are usually those with non-traditional attitudes,Glenn said in the report,which is not conducive to marital success. Glenn concluded that anti-marriage attitudes were more common among younger,less educated and less religious respondents.
Nisa Muhammad,founder of the Wedded Bliss Foundation,said single parenthood has been glorified by the media and culture,but marriage,from what she's observed,“changes things.”
“In communities that marriage fails,there are poorer schools and higher crime rates,” she said.
Single parents are operating in the “Special Olympics” of parenting,she said. They work hard,but can do only so much.
Muhammad,a single mother herself,said she'd like to see more marriage advocacy in schools and at home.
“Why isn't marriage as important as a college education?” she asked.
Brookings Institution scholar Ron Haskins said marriage and jobs are the two most important ways to reduce poverty.
“If we could increase marriage to where it was in 1980,child poverty would drop 30 percent,” he said.
Though attitudes may have changed over time,marriage in the U.S. continues to be high compared to some European countries.
Part of the study,Glenn said,was to test the public's receptiveness to government programs to strengthen marriage.
Some 94 percent of respondents said divorce is a serious national problem,while almost half thought that premarital counseling should be required.
“We're not just saying that people should just go out and get married,” Muhammad said. “Couples need to know how to have a smart marriage,and support services need to be available to those that need it.”
The telephone survey of adults 18 and older was conducted in December 2003 and January 2004 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. A grant from the U.S. Department of Justice helped to pay for the survey.