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  • Fewer High School Seniors See Marriage in Their Future

    by Robert VerBruggen, @RAVERBRUGGEN from the Institute for Family Studies blog April 11, 2024 In a brief new paper, sociologists Joanna R. Pepin and Philip N. Cohen highlight a new and worrisome trend: Fewer high-school seniors think they will get married one day, per the Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey. Fewer of them think they’d make a good spouse, too. Source: Pepin, J. R., & Cohen, P. N. (2024). "Growing Uncertainty in Marriage Expectations among U.S. Youth." Socius, 10. These trends are important in themselves. As Pepin and Cohen point out, the data may portend further declines in the marriage rate. I wanted to float some hypotheses about why they might be happening, too. First, could declining marriage expectations track the “Great Awokening”—the rise of left-wing sentiment among young people, especially women, in the past 10 years or so? The MTF data show growing liberal identification among young women (rising from about 20 to 30% in the past decade), and other evidence suggests liberals are less likely to marry, so it would make sense for declining marriage intentions to be bundled with these larger phenomena. I downloaded the MTF data for 2012 through 2022 (except for 2020, which, as Pepin and Cohen warn, is a bit wonky) to take a look. Here’s the share of each sex saying they think they’ll get married, divided by self-identified political leanings, over time.1 If changes in political identification entirely drove the trend above, separating the data this way would make the lines completely flat; or, if self-identified liberals were drifting anti-marriage, the change would be concentrated among them. Unfortunately, because not every respondent is asked every question, many of the individual points here are based on small sample sizes, creating some awkward lurches.2 But taken as a whole, this shows declining intentions for women even within political ideologies, while the trends for men are a bit flatter. It also, of course, affirms the premise that self-identified liberals are less likely to say they think they’ll marry. So politics could be part of the explanation, but these results are frankly more boring than I hoped. As for young people’s opinions about how great of spouses they would make, does the trend reflect changing views of marriage, or is the rise and fall simply an illustration of Millennial narcissism? Jean Twenge has famously shown that narcissistic personality traits rose among the young until about 2008 before declining with the economy. Looking at the trend above, my first thought was not “ugh, those Gen Z-ers hate marriage” but rather “wow, we Millennials were full of ourselves back in the day.” I’m no psychologist, but from the MTF data I can affirm that, unsurprisingly, people who think highly of themselves in general also tend to believe they would be fantastic spouses. Combining that whole period, only about a third of respondents who thought they were “far below average” in intelligence also thought they’d be “very good” spouses, versus about 60% of those who thought their smarts were above or far above average. Similarly, only 4% of kids who thought they’d make poor workers also believed they’d be very good spouses, versus 69% of those who thought they’d make very good workers. I don't want to make too much of this quick-and-dirty number crunching. Marriage expectations also go along with high regard for oneself as a spouse, so Pepin and Cohen are correct to see a connection: 61% of those who think they’ll get married, but only 24% of those who think they won't, believe they’d make very good spouses. And, after all, someone who accurately thinks he’s smart and a good worker might entirely reasonably think he’d be a good spouse for many of the same reasons. But these questions pick up something more than objective reality—specifically, a healthy dose of pompousness—seeing that about 60% of these kids thought they were at least slightly above average in intelligence, while not even 10% thought they were below average. Ultimately, the uptick in kids saying they don’t think they’ll marry is worrisome; exactly why this is happening is an open question. I wouldn’t launch a federal initiative to inflate Gen Z’s egos just yet—but maybe we should all send the young adults in our life a copy of Brad Wilcox's new book. Robert VerBruggen is a Manhattan Institute fellow and IFS research fellow. 1. The spectrum is collapsed to liberal, moderate, and conservative. Radicals are grouped in with liberals, and none/don’t know with moderates. 2. For example, in 2022, only 711 people answered whether they thought they’d get married, which in the chart gets divided into two sexes and three political ideologies each, with only 42 conservative women, a mere one of whom didn’t think she’d get married.

  • The Best Predictor of Happiness

    by Brad Wilcox, @BRADWILCOXIFS | David Bass from the Institute For Family Studies blog August 9, 2023 Americans who are married with children are now leading happier and more prosperous lives, on average, than men and women who are single and childless. Is that statement surprising? In an age that prizes individualism, workism, and a host of other self-centric “isms” above marriage and family, it may well be. But the reality is that nothing currently predicts happiness in life better than a good marriage. This truth is borne out yet again in new research from the University of Chicago, which found that marriage is the “the most important differentiator” of who is happy in America, and that falling marriage rates are a chief reason why happiness has declined nationally. The research, surveying thousands of respondents, revealed a startling 30-percentage-point happiness divide between married and unmarried Americans. This happiness boost held true for both men and women. “Marital status is and has been a very important marker for happiness,” researcher Sam Peltzman concludes. “The happiness landslide comes entirely from the married. Low happiness characterizes all types of non-married. No subsequent population categorization will yield so large a difference in happiness across so many people.” Continue reading at Unherd . . . .

  • Get Married. Then, Get Pregnant

    by Katy Faust, @ADVO_KATY from the Institute for Family Studies blog February 22, 2024 At the age of 34, I was a stay-at-home mom with four young kids living in one of the nation's most expensive cities. I had left a job I loved at age 25 to devote myself full-time to our family of now-six living on a pastor’s salary. Not only was I always tired and sometimes stressed, things were financially very lean. We were on utility discount programs, I shopped almost exclusively at Goodwill, and I was a master gleaner of just-about-to-go-bad produce at rock bottom prices. Around that time I reconnected with a high school friend with a brainy husband who decided she wasn't going to have children. “Kids are such a drain, and if I left my job, I’d never regain that lost ground. Besides, the world is overpopulated anyway,” she remarked while sipping a latte I could barely afford. As I recently shared, there was one moment on the side of a freeway when I was catching my 4-year-old’s vomit in my hands in the pouring rain when I wondered if I had made the right choice to not only prioritize marriage, but motherhood. The avalanche of data in Brad Wilcox's newest book, Get Married has the answer. Per usual, Wilcox’s research is unassailable. He's not just the guy I go to looking for precision stats on the number of women who initiate divorces or answers to granular questions about cohabitation. He's the go-to for outlets like the New York Times and The Atlantic as well. So when it comes to the numbers, Wilcox is right. What do the numbers tell us? An increasing percentage of young adults (ages 18-40) think education (64%) and money (75%) are more critical to fulfillment than marriage (32%). Wilcox also explains the why behind those numbers. A swelling percentage of people who would have already married in previous generations now largely see wedlock as a portal to “boredom, forgone job opportunities, the burdens of parenthood, oppressive gender roles, and being tied down.” They are rejecting marriage in an attempt to “maximize their freedom, wealth, and fulfillment—especially when they are in their twenties.” Get Married spends several chapters explaining why those conclusions are totally wrong. The data is clear that “marriage and family life are often more important for our sense of meaning, direction, and happiness than the degree on our wall, the place we punch a clock, or our ability to maximize our autonomy.” In one don’t-even-try-to-argue-with-the-findings-study, Wilcox reports: the odds that men and women say they are “very happy” with their lives are a staggering 545 percent higher for those who are very happily married, compared to their peers who are not married or who are less than very happy in their marriages. When it comes to predicting overall happiness, a good marriage is far more important than how much education you get, how much money you make, how often you have sex, and, yes, even how satisfied you are with your work. Ok. Marriage it is, then. After all, filming and editing those DINK videos is easier with two. But Wilcox doesn't let you off the hook there. He spends an entire chapter, “The Parent Trap,” making it clear that you should not only Get Married, but Get Pregnant. First, the numbers again. Wilcox cites a Pew poll that found “more than half of adults agreed that having a job or career they enjoy is “essential” to living a fulfilling life. But only about one in five felt the same way about having children.” He points to the exact “pervasive cultural forces” articulated by my high school friend who elevated her career over motherhood: No kids… means more freedom, more fun. In other words, individualism plus hedonism. But childlessness is also being elevated now not just as an obstacle to professional success or an expression of selfishness but as the moral choice in a world where children are depicted as a threat to the environment. Is a childless life more “free”? Certainly. Is it more “fun”? Maybe… if you favor casinos over karaoke-style carpooling with the pre-teen crowd. Is it good for the planet? Nope. (But that's a subject for another article.) Freedom, fun, and environmental fanaticism may sound great in your 20s or 30s, but Get Married has reams of stats connecting the rise of the single, childless life with loneliness, meaninglessness, and sadness. If it's fulfillment you're after, Wilcox makes clear that it’s time to have some kids. For example, he notes: Childless Americans are more likely to report that their lives are lonely, and less likely to report that they are meaningful and happy. Nearly 60% of men and women who do not have kids report they are lonely, some, most, or all of the time, whereas parents say the same only 45% of the time. Parents are more likely to report their lives are meaningful, “noting that they find a great deal of meaning in spending time with family.” 82% of parents are “very happy” or “pretty happy,” compared to 68% of their childless peers. Childless men and women are more likely than parents to say their lives are sad, most or all of the time. I’ve heard it said, “if someone can't accurately diagnose the problem, don't listen to their answer.” Wilcox understands the problem. That’s why we must heed his solution. If you want a fulfilling life, you should not only get married, but get pregnant. That's certainly how my story unfolded. My kids are now 14, 16, 18, and 20. The little society that my husband and I built is bursting with laughter, joy, and meaning. Loneliness? What does that even mean? My childless friend on the other hand seems to ever be hunting for fulfillment: following the latest trendy diet, in search of another gripping book, waiting for the next interesting work project. Her career peaked years ago, so she's now planning to retire at 50. She's lived in grand homes all across the world, wears Dolce and Gabbana glasses, and has a personal trainer. She's also told me that when her husband leaves for a couple weeks on a business trip or to visit his ailing father, she gets sad. The childlessness that seemed so liberating when she was sipping that latte 12 years ago has revealed itself as a meaningless void. The dominant problems in our society are not primarily material. They are relational. The solution is to form and create the most durable relational bonds known to mankind—the marriage kind. The parenthood kind. Read Wilcox’s new book. Then, get married, get pregnant, and be happy.

  • Embracing the Season of Singleness

    by Cody Wubs from A&M Partnership February 15, 2024 The season of singleness can be one of the most life giving and joyful parts of our lives. I heard it put like this one time if you aren’t content in singleness then you won’t be content in marriage. No matter what stage of life we find ourselves in we have had a season of singleness. It can be lonely and dark at times, but it can be exciting and joyful too. It really comes down to a person's mindset with singleness. It is no different to how one approaches life in general. How one decides to respond to life’s circumstances can impact their mindset and it may not change the situation, but it can change one's perspective. Although movies about singleness aren't topping the charts and books usually don't end in singleness, it is an important season in every person's life. A person's perspective behind it can greatly affect their future relationships. Here are four ways I have seen myself grow in how I view and approach singleness in a healthy way. 1. Being single doesn't mean we are alone. Wanting to be married is a good thing. We were designed for it. But before we are married, we will find ourselves single. We aren’t meant to be alone. The Bible states in Genesis 2:18, “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper for him.” From the beginning we are meant to do life together. Who we do life with is going to be different for us throughout our lives. Each season brings a different community. While we are married, we will have our spouse to love and support us but while we are single we have friends, family, or roommates. We need to find a community of people that we can trust and that will embrace us for who we are. We need to have people that will challenge us and encourage us. Community looks different in different seasons. 2. Being single allows us to be free to pursue life unencumbered. Think of a time when you wanted to do something or a friend wanted to spend time together or somebody asked for help, and you were there right away. My guess is that this was when you were single. When we are in a relationship or married, how we use our time changes. So, while we have ample time on our hands being single, pursue what matters in life and what you love to do wholeheartedly. Travel, sing, do art, play sports, exercise, volunteer, find a job you love, build strong friendships, care for your family, etc. whatever it is go and do it. Each and everyone of us are designed with specific gifts and talents to be of great benefit for this world. 3. Being single gives us time to grow. While we are single, we can grow in areas such as self control or self discipline, and learn who we are on our own. There can be an unnecessary amount of pressure surrounding the need to be in a relationship, especially for the younger generation, or rushing to get married. Just because everybody else is doing it doesn't mean you have to do it, sometimes the relationship you want isn’t the right one for you. It is also okay to wait and be patient as we seek our spouse. The stages of life happen in different seasons for everybody, being patient is key. There are many emotions and feelings with dating. We need to be wise to consider both ours and the other person’s heart when we pursue a relationship. Growing while being single can look like processing past relationships and taking time to heal from past hurt. It is wise to be self aware and evaluate if you are emotionally ready before jumping into a relationship. If you do not take the time to grow on your own, relationships could cause more hurt. You are trying to get to know the other person as well as showing them who you are. When we embrace singleness we are able to pursue friendships and approach dating with wisdom. In singleness, we are free of pressures that come with dating, the biggest one being physical pressures of being intimate. The best and healthiest way to engage in sexual activity is marriage. The biggest benefit when abstaining from any sexual activity till marriage will be in getting to know someone better without clouding your judgment and connecting yourself to someone physically. It will also help in guarding your heart from heartbreak and help in making an informed decision if this person is someone you want to marry. 4. Being single doesn't mean you can't be content. Some people will never have “til death do us part”. That doesn't mean their lives are less fulfilled. We are not made complete or whole by somebody else. Your girlfriend, boyfriend, or even spouse doesn’t complete you. We are a completely whole person inside and outside of relationships. If we weren’t complete or whole that would mean for much of our lives, we were half of a person. The whole concept of being made complete by somebody else is emphasized so much in society. We need to stop this mentality. Looking at all the ways I have grown in seeing singleness as a positive season, I have seen my perspective change. My own story of singleness is one that I want to share to encourage and challenge. I personally have never dated anybody as of the writing of this blog. Although there are times when I feel lonely, I have never felt empty. I want to be married and have a wife to care for and love, but I am content as I wait. Some days can be harder than others but we grow the most through trials in life. I have pursued my passions and joys in life. I still put myself out there and try my best at finding my spouse but it doesn’t always work out. My life is full even without a relationship. Being single has never stopped me from living my life well. It can be true for you too, so go and enjoy life, find your passions, build friendships, travel, explore, and experience life!

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