The recession reminds us that marriage is more than an emotional relationship; marriage is also an economic partnership and social safety net." That's what Brad Wilcox writes in an introductory essay to The State of Our Unions: Marriage in America 2009: "There is nothing like the loss of a job, an imminent foreclosure, or a shrinking 401(k) to gain new appreciation for a wife's job, a husband's commitment to pay down debt, or the in-laws' willingness to help out with childcare or a rent-free place to live."
It's too early to know whether the Great Recession will be good for marriage or not. A decline in the divorce rate last year shows that the recession has not caused a stampede toward divorce court, but the decline may be temporary as couples wait for housing prices to rebound before getting divorced. One positive note: Credit card debt is down. Couples are more likely to stay together when they have more shared assets and fewer debts.
This recession, sometimes dubbed a "mancession," has thrown more working-class and poor men out of work, and Wilcox's research suggests that this could have troubling long-term effects: "Husbands are significantly less happy in their marriages, and more likely to contemplate divorce, when their wives take the lead in breadwinning."
Wilcox concludes: "These unemployment trends are likely to deepen the marital divide that has opened up between college-educated and less-educated Americans, a divide marked by dramatically higher rates of divorce among those without college degrees compared to those with college degrees." College-educated women also marry at a higher rate than their peers, are less likely to have children out of wedlock, and hold a more restrictive attitude toward divorce-but "for the non-college-educated population, unfortunately, the marriage situation remains gloomy. Marriage rates are continuing to decline, and the percentage of out-of-wedlock births is rising." The result: a greater gap between the haves and the have-nots.
Graphs and analysis at the end of the report (available at stateofourunions.org) highlight long-term trends. The report notes an increase in lifelong singleness, unmarried cohabitation, and cohabitation between divorced people who ultimately remarry. Meanwhile, the marriage rate continues to decline.
What about the children? The report analyzed statistics for the past 40 years and concluded that we have become a less child-centered society. With fertility rates down and fewer households including children, they "increasingly have been pushed from center stage." The statistics are startling. In the middle of the 1800s, about 75 percent of households contained children under the age of 18. By the mid-1900s that percentage had dropped to just under 50 percent, and in 2000 it was 33 percent. Some of the decline is because people live longer and the extended family is not under one roof, but the result is that "neighborhoods are less likely to contain children, and that children are less likely to be a consideration in daily life. It suggests that the needs and concerns of children-especially young children-gradually may be receding from our national consciousness."
The report found that a greater percentage of children will grow up in "fragile families," typically without biological fathers. The trend, which had leveled off in the late 1990s, is again rising. Divorce, unmarried births, and unmarried cohabitation all contribute to the problem.
Insight into the Elliots
"I have a real cause for praise in my wife-a more thoughtful, well balanced, and suitable girl I could have found nowhere for the rugged work the Lord is now leading us into." So wrote Jim Elliot in October 1953, to Williams Community Church in Williams, Ore., one of the U.S. churches that faithfully supported the Elliots' missionary work.
On Jan. 8, 1956, Jim Elliot and four other missionaries died at the hands of the Auca Indians. Several weeks later Elisabeth Elliot returned to the Williams church a check for $39.40 it had sent: She wrote, "I cannot cash it, and would not want to, since it was his." She continued, "I can only thank the Lord for the glorious victory which must be Jim's at this moment-he loved and served the Lord Christ so passionately, there must be great joy for him in heaven."
In September 1956, Elisabeth Elliot went by canoe to a remote place to teach a group of Indians who had never heard the gospel. She wrote, "But when I got home, tired, sunburned, with a bad cold from being soaked for two days, and Valerie was bitten by a vampire, I thought to myself, 'Is it worth it?' Now-immediately the Lord reminded me of his word, "ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord," but then one wonders about those poor Indians."
These snippets are part of a collection of never-published letters, written between 1953 and 1959, and now available online thanks to the generosity of the Williams Community Church, which donated them last year to the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. The letters provide insights into the Elliots' work and their personal relationship with the churches that supported them. Images of the letters, both typed and handwritten, are available at wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/docs/Elliotletters/intro.htm.
Elizabeth Marquardt, one of the editors of State of our Unions, 2009, recently noted to a group of pastors that "people have more experience growing up without marriage than with it," so pastors cannot assume that younger members of their congregation have even seen a good marriage. National Marriage Week, Feb. 7 to Feb. 14, draws attention to the importance of marriage to families, churches, and society. Helpful resources and links are available at NationalMarriage WeekUSA.org.
1,233: The number of U.S. locations making chocolate and cocoa products in 2007.
3,643: The number of confectionery and nut stores in the United States in 2007.
27,484: The number of jewelry stores in the United States in 2007.
19,759: The number of florists nationwide in 2007.
2.16 million: The number of marriages that took place in the United States in 2008. That breaks down to fewer than 6,000 a day.
27.6 and 25.9 years: Median age at first marriage in 2008 for men and women, respectively.
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics