The Demise of the Happy Home
As our society drifts away from traditional values, marriage matters more than ever now.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Congress’s Joint Economic Committee produced a report called “The Demise of the Happy Two-Parent Home.”
It provided an overview of how the American family has changed over the past 50 years—especially related to marriage. The changes have not been positive.
Because I have devoted much of my life and ministry to helping couples build strong, godly marriages, these kinds of reports always get my attention. Unfortunately, this report shows that the the relationship between our culture and the institution of marriage is worse than ever before.
In 2 Timothy 3, Paul writes to Timothy about the end times. “In the last days, perilous times will come,” he predicts. He then describes the moral decay that will mark those last days. He warns about “despisers of good” and “lovers of pleasure,” as well as a rise in men and women who are “unloving.”
The Greek word we translate “unloving” in that passage is the word astorgos. It refers to the lack of family love. Unloving men or women are those who aren’t experiencing or producing the love of family.
When I see the state of marriage and family today, I recognize many of those warning signs. I see a world in which more adults are “unloving”—or disconnected to marriage and family—than ever before.
Consider some of the findings of the report:
- By late adolescence, 45% of today’s American children will spend significant periods of time during which a biological parent is absent. In the 1950s, this was true of only one-fifth to one-quarter of children.
- Between 1962 and 2019, the percentage of married women under the age of 44 dropped from 71% to 42%.
- Individuals are getting married later in life. In 1960, the median age for marriage was 20 (women) and 23 (men). Today, that median age is 28 for women and 30 for men.
- Today, 35% of women ages 30 to 34 have never married at all. In 1962, this number was only 7%.
- In the 1960s, only 1% of couples living together were unmarried. Today, that number is much higher. Around 13% of couples currently living in the same household are unmarried.
- For the past two decades, two-thirds of new marriages have been preceded by cohabitation of some kind, even though this practice makes marriages less likely to succeed. (Society once frowned on cohabitation, but not anymore.)
- In 1960, 5% of births were to unmarried mothers. Today, unwed childbearing is nearly eight times as common as it once was: 40% of births last year were to unmarried mothers.
- Today, only 70 percent of children live with two parents. 10% live with a divorced single parent. Around 15% live with a parent who has never married.
- The decline in family stability happens more rapidly in minority groups. Around 46% of non-Hispanic white women under the age of 44 are married. But only 24% of Black women in the same age group are married.
- African-American women are also more likely to have a marriage end in divorce. A total of 63% of first marriages among Black women end in divorce within 20 years. For non-Hispanic white women, that number is 47%, and it is 46% among Hispanic women.
- 80% of Black children grow up with single parents.
Why do these numbers matter? They matter because of the impact on children. The sons and daughters of these failed marriages or uncommitted relationships will become the adults of tomorrow. These children are learning about marriage—for better or for worse—by watching their parents. When they grow up, they will model the relationships they observed as children.
This means today’s lack of strong marriages and intact families will resonate in our society for generations into the future. The report makes this clear:
Researchers have well established that children raised by married parents do better on a wide array of outcomes. They have stronger relationships with their parents, particularly with their fathers. They are also much less likely to experience physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. They have better health, exhibit less aggression, are less likely to engage in delinquent behavior, have greater educational attainment, and earn more as adults. They are also far less likely to live in poverty.
Of course, when children grow up outside the bounds of marriage, they are more likely to suffer the opposite outcomes: weak relationships, more potential for abuse, diminished health, less education, more aggression, lower incomes and a higher chance of living in poverty.
Marriage matters. As our society disconnects from the traditional ideals of marriage and family, we are becoming more and more “unloving.” We will see the consequences of this shift for years and years to come.
Please make an effort to prevent or reverse these trends in your own family. Commit to each other and resolve to work through any challenges you might face. Prioritize your marriage. Take the word “divorce” out of your vocabulary. Work at it. Communicate. Serve each other. If necessary, submit to counseling or marriage therapy.
If you have children, let them see you putting effort into building a healthy, godly marriage. Their futures and the future strength of our nation may depend on it.