Our cultural attitudes about marriage, living together without getting married and having children have been shifting dramatically. Look at these rather amazing findings about the world we are now living in.
As recently reported in the New York Times by David Brooks, in 1957, 57 percent of those surveyed said that they believed adults were “immoral” or “neurotic” if they remained single. Today, 45 percent of all households consist of single adults, according to the 2008 census. In 1990, almost two-thirds of Americans said that children were very important to a successful marriage. Today, only 41 percent say that. There are now more houses that have dogs than have children.
A generation or two ago, it was considered shameful for adults to have children unless they were married. Today, more than half of all births born to women younger than 30 occur outside of marriage. There are now more households that consist of single adults than there are married-with-children households. In Manhattan, N.Y., roughly half of all residences are single households. In Denver, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, more than 40 percent of residential units are single households.
In the late 1960s, 10 percent of couples lived together before marriage. Today, 60 percent of couples live together first, and an increasing number of couples are living together and choosing not to get married. The ages at which people first marry have now hit record highs: 28.7 years for men and 26.5 for women. The divorce rate today for people 50 to 64 has doubled since 1990 and tripled for those 65 and older.
And just in case you thought this was strictly an American phenomenon, 30 percent of German women of child-bearing age say they do not intend to have children. The number of marriages in Spain has declined by 37 percent from 1975 to today. In a 2011 survey of Taiwanese women, a majority of women of child-bearing age said that they did not want children. Fertility rates in Brazil have dropped from 4.3 babies per woman to 1.9 babies in the past 35 years. And, of course, there is now same-sex marriage, which has been legalized in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Denmark, Mexico and nine states in the U.S.
It is clear that attitudes are changing rapidly about marriage and the rules that govern intimate relationships, and they’re changing throughout much of the world. In attempting to interpret this data, let me offer a few observations. First, people are increasingly less tolerant and less willing to remain in unsatisfactory or unhappy marriages, and today, people tend to be more enlightened about what a good marriage is. Fewer and fewer people are willing to feel trapped in an unhappy relationship indefinitely.
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