Experts Concerned About Social Cost of
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
� I think the institution of
marriage is in serious trouble,� said David Popenoe, 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. Popenoe 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 whatís going to happen in
the [next] millennium is a marriage renaissance,� she
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 nationís first commission on marriage.
�The marriage movement is well under
way,� said Brent Barlow, chairman of Mr. Leavittís 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, �weíre
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
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
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.
Popenoe and colleague Barbara Dafoe Whitehead have identified some
knotty problems they believe must be answered to revive marriages,
-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 otherís 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 todayís 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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