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July 23, 2005
Column #1,247

The State of Our Unions 2005

     "Americans have become less likely to marry. This is reflected in a decline of nearly 50 percent, from 1970 to 2004, in the annual number of marriages per 1,000 unmarried adult women," according to "The State of Our Unions 2005: The Social Health of Marriage in America."

     This is a stunning finding of an annual report by "The National Marriage Project" written by David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead.

     If the same percentage of people were getting married in 2005 as 35 years ago, there would be 1.1 million more marriages a year - 3.3 million marriages rather than the 2.2 million who married in 2004.

     This trend has had a calamitous impact. According to the Census, only half of Americans are married today compared to two-thirds in 1960. 

     Why does this matter? In Genesis we read, "It is not good for man to be alone."

     "The institution of marriage represents the very foundation of human social order," writes Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family. "Everything of value sits on that base. Institutions, governments, religious fervor and the welfare of children are all dependent on its stability."

     For evidence, read The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially by Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher. Examples from its data:

     1. Happier. Two-thirds of husbands and 62% of wives grade their marriage the highest possible happiness rating.  "Almost no one   2% of the married men and 4% of the married women described their marriage as `not too happy.'

     "Nor do unhappy marriages necessarily stay that way: 86% of those who rated their marriage as unhappy in the late eighties and who were still married five years later said their marriages had become happier," the book states.

     2. Health: A married man will live TEN YEARS longer than a single man. Four out of ten never-married or divorced men will die before age 65 compared to one of ten married men.

     Divorced men are twice as likely to die from the four biggest killers: heart disease, stroke, hypertension and cancer -- as married men in any given year! And death for the divorced is four times more likely via auto accidents and suicide, seven times higher by cirrhosis of the liver and pneumonia.

     Divorced women are also more likely to get sick and die at somewhat younger ages than married women.

     3. Wealth: A married man will earn 10 to 40 percent more than a single man with the same educational background, reports the Institute for American Values.  A wife and family inspire men to work harder. Nearing retirement in 1996, married couples had $410,000 of assets or three to four times that of  the never-married, the divorced, the widowed or the separated.

     Why is there such a plunge in the marriage rate?

     Cohabitation has soared 10-fold - from 540,000 in 1970 to 5,081,000 million couples living together in 2004. That is more than twice the 2.2 million marriages a year. Cohabitation not marriage is the dominant way male-female unions are formed.

      Many people think living together is a step toward marriage. 

     Actually, cohabitation has become a substitute for marriage, diverting tens of millions from getting married at all.  In 1970, there were only 21 million Americans who had never married. By 2003 that figure jumped to 52 million. That is a stunning 148% population growth.

     Cohabitation also drove up out-of-wedlock births from 224,000 in 1960 to 1.4 million in 1993. Two of five couples living together have children under age 18 - virtually the same as married couples. 

     Many cohabiting couples think that if they marry, they have a better chance of a lifelong marriage.  Actually, those who marry after living together are 50 percent more likely to divorce than those who remain apart before the wedding.

     That's why divorce rates have nearly doubled since 1960 even though the marriage rate has  plunged in half. America has "the world's highest divorce rate," says "The State of Our Unions."

     These numbers need to be considered by every house of worship, where 86 percent of couples marry. Clearly, organized religion is part of the problem.

     However, 10,000 churches have signed a Community Marriage Policy (CMP) in which they pledge to require rigorous marriage preparation, to offer marriage enrichment and to restore troubled marriages. (Disclosure: my wife and I have helped create 194 CMPs.)

     Consider the result in one CMP city: marriage rates have risen 25 percent in Evansville, IN, thanks to Community Marriage Builders led by Dr. Ann Gries. (

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