March 21, 2011

Do people worry about marriage becoming obsolete?

Q. One of your recent reports found that 39% of Americans agree that marriage is becoming obsolete. What percent of the sample showed any concern about that trend?

Sometimes after we field a survey and see the results, we kick ourselves for failing to ask an obvious question. This is one of those cases. In retrospect, we should have followed up the “Is marriage becoming obsolete?” question with: “And do you think that’s a good thing for society, a bad thing, or does it make no difference?” We didn’t. But we did use that question wording elsewhere in the same survey when we asked about several marriage-related trends. For example, 43% of our respondents said that the trend toward more people living together without getting married is bad for society, 9% said it is good and a plurality — 46% — said it makes no difference. We also did a follow-up report that used a statistical technique known as cluster analysis to show that the public is divided into three roughly equal segments — accepters, rejecters and skeptics — in the way they judge a range of trends related to changes in marriage and family structure.

Paul Taylor, Director, Pew Research Center Social & Demographic Trends project