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Ethics & Religion
Column #2,031
July 15, 2020
Marriages Are Falling - But Improving
By Mike McManus

As a result of Covid-19 and the recession, fewer couples are getting married. Millions of parents have lost their jobs, with the result that divorce rates are rising - particularly if the father loses his job.

The marriage rate was already dropping prior to Covid-19 to a record low in 2018. The current recession will drive the marriage rate even lower, because couples are reluctant to tie the knot when their economic prospects are uncertain. The people hit hardest by the marital decline are the less educated and the working class. A staggering number of today's young adults will never marry - at least one-third, by one estimate.

By the mid-21st century, millions of Americans will be what the Chinese call "bare branches" - men and women without kin. These men and women will not have the economic, social or emotional support they need in midlife - and especially in old age.

However, in the midst of this tumult, there is a silver lining. The "soulmate" version of marriage will fade but be replaced by a "family-first" model that will be stronger and more stable and more likely to offer a secure harbor for children.

The soulmate model of marriage can be heard in thousands of songs, seen in hundreds of Hollywood movies and many self-help books. Think Elizabeth Gilbert's song, "Eat Pray Love" or the song "120,000 Hours" by Dan Shay and Justin Bieber. These songs have sparked a popular myth prompting men and women to go into marriage with unrealistic expectations.

As government and the market took care of more and more basic needs like food and shelter, married couples felt free to focus on emotional connections and personal fulfillment. However, in the darker and more difficult world we now face, marked by economic insecurity and government impotence, the soul mate myth became more unrealistic. Husbands and wives will come to see how little they can depend upon the government and the market-and how much they have to lean on one another.

They will rediscover marriage as a space primarily dedicated to raising children where lifelong commitment and community support - including that of a local church - are essential. In other words, they will learn that marriage is about much more than the fluctuating feelings of two people.

After Covid-19, most marriages will not collapse but instead grow stronger. According to Brad Wilcox of Christianity Today, hardships during the Great Recession led many Americans to deepen their marital commitments and, in many cases, cancel their plans to divorce. In fact, the divorce rate has fallen by one-fifth, since the last recession as Americans became more committed and cautious about married life.

The "family first" model depends on a "till death do us part" ethic. Couples who embrace this ethic are less likely to worry about divorce. They are more likely to be happily married. In fact 82% of them reported that divorce is not an option - said they were satisfied.

As marriages become stronger and childbearing becomes more selective, the share of kids being raised in intact families will go up, increasing the family stability advantage for many children. In the wake of the Great Recession, there have been declines in divorce and declines in the share of babies born outside of marriage, leading to an uptick in the share of children being raised by their own married parents.

Americans who stay married will emerge from this pandemic in better emotional and financial shape than single Americans or those who divorce. Married adults tend to be happier than single adults.

In a family-first marriage communion between husband and wife motivates their matrimony but so too does a concern for giving their children a stable home, keeping their heads above water financially, helping other family members and honoring their vows to remain together. The church is especially well-positioned to play a supportive role in this "till death" model of marriage.

The Institute for Family Studies reports that couples who stay actively involved in their religious communities and pray together regularly are much more likely to enjoy vibrant marriages. Of course, church-going Christians are also much more likely than other Americans to get married in the first place.

Although much about our world is bleak and will be for some time, the post-pandemic future for married families looks bright with wedlock emerging stronger, more stable, and better positioned to provide the secure foundation that children need to thrive. All of this will be especially true for the faithful.


Copyright (c) 2020 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.


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