Love, marriage and a baby carriage aren’t as linked as they used to be. Not in that order, and not at all.
In 2007, Pew Research Center revealed the “surprising” statistic that less than half of U.S. adults — 41% — said that children are very important for a successful marriage, a decline from 65% who said the opposite in 1990. Three years later, a 2010 Pew study found that Americans rank love, lifelong commitment and companionship as more important reasons to get married than having children.
Now, the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University in Ohio reports a small but statistically important rise in the number of married women without children. Whether the kids are their biological offspring, adopted or step-, more married households are functioning just fine and often on purpose, without them.
The Family & Marriage Research Center’s analysis of the National Survey of Family Growth shows that in 1988, only 4.5% of married women ages 40-44 were childless. That number climbed to 6% in the period from 2006 to 2010. The Center’s co-director, Susan L. Brown, told the LA Times “the increase is another sign of the evolving meaning of marriage.”
Federal government stats show that a majority of American women who don’t have children are single, and an overwhelming majority of married women do ultimately have children. But, is parenthood the primary reason why people go to the altar? Not so much. It seems we’re getting married because we want to be married, and that’s reason enough.
“We’ve moved away from the idea that the sole or even the primary purpose of marriage is to produce offspring,” said Debra Mollen, associate professor of psychology at Texas Woman’s University. Instead, “we want someone to share our lives with.”
That 2010 Pew survey found 77% of adults agree that raising a family is easier for married couple than individuals, but in other areas of their lives, marriage didn’t seem to be much of a necessity. About half of us believe that married or single, there’s no difference “in the ease of having a fulfilling sex life, being financially secure, finding happiness, getting ahead in a career or having social status.”
Childless by Choice Project director Laura S. Scott told the Times, “There’s a resistance to parenthood being the default after marriage. People are questioning it in ways that they didn’t perhaps 30 or 40 or 50 years ago.”
Or, even 5 years ago.
(Image Credit: JD Hancock/flickr)