April 12, 2011

Are views of marriage affected by the type of family people grew up in?

Q. Do you find in your surveys that the kind of family that people say they were raised in (happily married parents, unhappily married, divorced, single parent, etc.) correlates with their current views of marriage?

Yes and no. When we did a big survey last year on attitudes about marriage and family life, we asked respondents to tell us their parents’ marital status during most of the time they were growing up; 77% said their parents were married, 13% said divorced, 2% separated, 2% widowed and 5% never married. When we cross that family history with responses to questions about marriage, we see a mixed pattern. For example, our survey found that 39% of all respondents agree that marriage is becoming obsolete — including virtually identical shares of respondents whose parents were married (38%) and respondents whose parents were not married for whatever reason (39%). But on other questions, there’s a gap in attitudes between those groups. For example, among respondents whose parents were married while they were growing up, 76% say they are very satisfied with their family life; among respondents whose parents were not married for whatever reason, just 70% say the same. Not surprisingly, there’s a much bigger gap when we asked married respondents if their relationship with their spouse is closer or less close than the relationship their parents had. Among those whose parents were not married, 69% say their spousal relationship is closer, 24% say about the same and just 5% say less close. Among those whose parents were married, just 46% say closer, 48% say about the same and 5% say less close.

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