Item from the Smart Marriages Archive, reproduced in the Divorce Statistics Collection

January 7, 1999

Features Popenoe, Sollee, Barlow, Leavitt, Hawkins, & Whitehead

Experts Concerned About Social Cost of Family Collapse
Cherly Weitzstein
The Washington Times
December 29, 1998

Marriage promises to be a top social issue in 1999 as worries deepen about the social costs of family breakdown, a panel of social policy leaders says.

" I think the institution of marriage is in serious trouble," said David Popence, social scientist and leader of the newly formed National Marriage Project at Rutgers University.

Marriage is disappearing in some lower economic classes, is hardly mentioned in Congress and is treated like "a joke" in sociology departments, Mr. Popenoe recently told a meeting of 40 family policy experts at the Heritage Foundation.

Meanwhile, "cohabitation is dramatically increasing," especially among people with children, Mr. Popence said, adding, "This is something the nation has to take more seriously than it does."

Another seminar attendee, Diane Sollee, director of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education, was more upbeat.

"I think that what's going to happen in the [next] millennium is a marriage renaissance," she said.

Already this year, she added, there are four TV productions on "marriage in the millennium," Florida and Arizona passed promarriage laws and Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt created the nation's first commission on marriage.

"The marriage movement is well under way," said Brent Barlow, chairman of Mr. Leavitt's marriage commission, which started in September.

Mr. Barlow, a professor of family sciences at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah, said that with 88 percent of Americans marrying at least once, "we're still very marriage-minded in America."

But the number of Americans marrying is down from a high of 94 percent and within 10 years, if divorce and cohabitation trends continue, "being married could be a minority status," he said.

Mr. Barlow said government should care about supporting marriage because it has to "pick up the pieces" of martial and family disruption.

A new study in Australia estimates that family breakdown there cost $6 billion annually, he said. Australia has around 18 million people, "so extrapolate that" to America, with 278 million people, and the costs are exorbitant.

To discourage divorce, Louisiana enacted an optional "covenant" marriage license in June 1997. The license requires premarital counseling and sets strict conditions for divorce.

To date, around 3 percent of newlywed couples are opting for covenant licenses, Alan J. Hawkins, a family sciences professor at BYU, said in a recent report.

However, if, as expected, 25 percent of newlyweds choose covenant licenses they plus all the thousands of married couples who "upgrade" their licenses, will constitute a "significant" proportion of couples, Mr. Hawkins wrote.

Arizona now has a covenant marriage law as well, and Florida has enacted two pro-marriage laws-one to reward couples for getting premarital counseling and the other to require ninth and 10th graders to receive a marriage skills class.

At the National Marriage Project, Mr. Popence and colleague Barbara Dafoe Whitehead have identified some knotty problems they believe must be answered to revive marriages, such as:

-People are becoming sexually mature younger but marrying later. How can society ensure that premarital lifestyles will "contribute to, rather than detract from, eventual marriage?"

-It is now widely believed that husbands and wives should be each other's best friends. Does this rule, which once was played by a relative or friend, put an undue burden on modern marriages?

-Couples used to live near friends and family who helped raise the children. Does today's mobile society undermine marriage by keeping the burden of child rearing solely on parents?

-Traditionally, husbands were "breadwinners" and wives were child rearers. Now that women work outside the home, what is the best approach for marriage, family and children?

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