Item from the Smart
Marriages Archive, reproduced in the Divorce Statistics
January 7, 1999
Features Popenoe, Sollee, Barlow, Leavitt, Hawkins, & Whitehead
Experts Concerned About Social Cost of Family Collapse
The Washington Times
December 29, 1998
Marriage promises to be a top social issue in 1999 as worries deepen about
the social costs of family breakdown, a panel of social policy leaders says.
" I think the institution of marriage is in serious trouble,"
said David Popence, social scientist and leader of the newly formed National
Marriage Project at Rutgers University.
Marriage is disappearing in some lower economic classes, is hardly mentioned
in Congress and is treated like "a joke" in sociology departments,
Mr. Popenoe recently told a meeting of 40 family policy experts at the Heritage
Meanwhile, "cohabitation is dramatically increasing," especially
among people with children, Mr. Popence said, adding, "This is something
the nation has to take more seriously than it does."
Another seminar attendee, Diane Sollee, director of the Coalition for Marriage,
Family and Couples Education, was more upbeat.
"I think that what's going to happen in the [next] millennium is a
marriage renaissance," she said.
Already this year, she added, there are four TV productions on "marriage
in the millennium," Florida and Arizona passed promarriage laws and
Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt created the nation's first commission on marriage.
"The marriage movement is well under way," said Brent Barlow,
chairman of Mr. Leavitt's marriage commission, which started in September.
Mr. Barlow, a professor of family sciences at Brigham Young University (BYU)
in Provo, Utah, said that with 88 percent of Americans marrying at least
once, "we're still very marriage-minded in America."
But the number of Americans marrying is down from a high of 94 percent and
within 10 years, if divorce and cohabitation trends continue, "being
married could be a minority status," he said.
Mr. Barlow said government should care about supporting marriage because
it has to "pick up the pieces" of martial and family disruption.
A new study in Australia estimates that family breakdown there cost $6 billion
annually, he said. Australia has around 18 million people, "so extrapolate
that" to America, with 278 million people, and the costs are exorbitant.
To discourage divorce, Louisiana enacted an optional "covenant"
marriage license in June 1997. The license requires premarital counseling
and sets strict conditions for divorce.
To date, around 3 percent of newlywed couples are opting for covenant licenses,
Alan J. Hawkins, a family sciences professor at BYU, said in a recent report.
However, if, as expected, 25 percent of newlyweds choose covenant licenses
they plus all the thousands of married couples who "upgrade" their
licenses, will constitute a "significant" proportion of couples,
Mr. Hawkins wrote.
Arizona now has a covenant marriage law as well, and Florida has enacted
two pro-marriage laws-one to reward couples for getting premarital counseling
and the other to require ninth and 10th graders to receive a marriage skills
At the National Marriage Project, Mr. Popence and colleague Barbara Dafoe
Whitehead have identified some knotty problems they believe must be answered
to revive marriages, such as:
-People are becoming sexually mature younger but marrying later. How can
society ensure that premarital lifestyles will "contribute to, rather
than detract from, eventual marriage?"
-It is now widely believed that husbands and wives should be each other's
best friends. Does this rule, which once was played by a relative or friend,
put an undue burden on modern marriages?
-Couples used to live near friends and family who helped raise the children.
Does today's mobile society undermine marriage by keeping the burden of
child rearing solely on parents?
-Traditionally, husbands were "breadwinners" and wives were child
rearers. Now that women work outside the home, what is the best approach
for marriage, family and children?
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