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Marriage Rate Falls to About 50% As People Say Institution is Obsolete

About half of all adults in the U.S. are married, down from 72 percent in 1960, while 4 in 10 people consider marriage obsolete and most say their definition of family has changed, according to a poll.

In a telephone survey of 2,691 Americans by the Pew Research Center in Washington and Time magazine, 86 percent of respondents said a single parent and child constitute a family. Four out of 5 respondents said an unmarried man and woman with a child also were a family, and 63 percent said a gay or lesbian couple raising a youngster could be described the same way.

The findings come with a “mix of unease and acceptance” as respondents were evenly split as to whether the new family units were good, bad or didn’t make a difference for society, the authors of the report said. Young adults, non-religious people, liberals and blacks, were more likely to be accepting of the new arrangements than their counterparts. Most people, no matter how they defined family, said it was central to their lives and more important than career, social life or community.

“The survey finds that Americans have an expansive definition of what constitutes a family,” the report said. “And the vast majority of adults consider their own family to be the most important, most satisfying element of their lives.”

The sharp decline in marriage is most pronounced among young adults. In 2008, 26 percent of 20-somethings were married compared with 68 percent in 1960. The number of young people who will ever marry “is an open question,” the report found.

‘More Tolerant’

“Younger Americans are much more open to the changes and more tolerant of alternative arrangements,” the report said. Almost half of those under 30 said that the changes to family arrangements are a good thing.

As marriage has declined, cohabitation has become more widespread. Living with a partner has doubled since 1990, and 44 percent of adults say they have cohabited at some point, usually as a step toward marriage.

Among respondents who were married, 93 percent said love was the most important reason to tie the knot.

Marriage rates also were higher among those with greater education levels.

In 2008, 64 percent of college graduates were married compared with 48 percent of those with a high school diploma or less, the survey showed. In 1960, 76 percent of those who graduated from college were married, compared with 72 percent of adults who didn’t attend an institute of higher education.

“These findings suggest that those with less income and education are opting out of marriage not because they don’t value the institution or aspire to its benefits, but because they may doubt that they (or a potential spouse) can meet the standards they impose on marriage,” the report said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Lopatto in New York at elopatto@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net.

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