... In World Values Surveys taken at the turn of the millennium, fewer Americans agreed with the statement “Marriage is an outdated institution” than citizens of any other Western country surveyed (compare the U.S.’s tiny 10 percent with France’s 36 percent). We are also more religious—more Americans (60 percent) say they attend religious services once a month than do the Vatican-centric Italians (54 percent) or, no surprise, the laissez-faire French (12 percent). At the same time, Americans endure the highest divorce rate in the Western world. In short, although we say we love religion and marriage, Cherlin notes, “religious Americans are more likely to divorce than secular Swedes.”
Cherlin believes the reason for this paradox is that Americans hold two values at once: a culture of marriage and a culture of individualism. Or is it an American spirit of optimism wedded, if you will, to a Tocquevillian spirit of restlessness that inspires three out of four Americans to say they believe marriage is for life, while only one in four agreed with the notion that even if a marriage is unhappy, one should stay put for the sake of the children. If America is a “divorce culture,” it may be partly because we are a “marriage culture,” since we both divorce and marry (a projected 90 percent of us) at some of the highest rates anywhere on the globe. Hence Cherlin’s cautionary advice consists of two words—“Slow down”—his chief worry about our frenetic marriage-go-round being its negative impact on our children. In fact, while having two biological parents at home is, the statistics tell us, best for children, a single-parent household is almost as good. The harm comes, Cherlin argues, from parents continually coupling with new partners, so that the children are forced to bond, or compete for attention, with ever-new actors. These are the youngsters who are likely to suffer, according to a measurable matrix of factors such as truancy, disobedience in school, and teen pregnancy. Instead of preaching marriage, Cherlin says, we should preach domestic stability for children. Is marriage the best way to ensure this? Apparently not, at least not the way we do it in America.
The image above, which accompanied the magazine article, is credited to Kim Rosen.