There really is a point to all that mushy stuff, the flowers and the cards and the candy today. Though it is, perhaps, the ultimate “Hallmark holiday,” it’s far more than that. St. Valentine’s Day — even in its imagery of Cupid with a bow and arrow — is also an opportunity to recall that love comes to a point. And that point, ideally, is marriage and the family.
When marriage flourishes, society flourishes.
It’s disturbing, then, to learn that marriage is fading in parts of American society.
“In Middle America, marriage is in trouble,” warned a recent report from the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project. “Among the affluent, marriage is stable and appears to be getting even stronger. Among the poor, marriage continues to be fragile and weak. But the newest and perhaps most consequential marriage trend of our time concerns the broad center of our society, where marriage, that iconic middle-class institution, is foundering.”
Among “Middle Americans,” which the project defines as “those with a high-school but not a (four-year) college degree,” the rates of divorce and unwed childbearing are rising.
“This ‘moderately educated’ middle of America constitutes a full 58 percent of the adult population,” the report notes.
Moreover, the quality of marriage is declining for that population, as well.
“In the 1970s, about 69 percent of moderately and highly educated married adults indicated they were ‘very happy’ in their marriages, whereas only 59 percent of married adults with the least education (high-school dropouts) reported they were very happy,” the report says. “By the 2000s, 69 percent of highly educated married adults still reported that they were very happy, but only 57 percent of moderately educated married adults and 52 percent of the least educated (who make up 12 percent of the adult population) reported the same.”
The report says marriage is increasingly a “dividing line” between those with more education and those with less. This is shown in divorce rates, as well.
“From the 1970s to the 1990s, divorce or separation within the first 10 years of marriage became less likely for the highly educated (15 percent down to 11 percent), somewhat more likely for the moderately educated (36 up to 37 percent), and less likely for the least educated (46 down to 36 percent),” the report says.
Why is this important?
“Marriage is not merely a private arrangement between two persons,” the report contends. “It is a core social institution, one that helps to ensure the economic, social, and emotional welfare of countless children, women, and men in this nation. Today’s retreat from marriage among the moderately educated middle is placing the American Dream beyond the reach of too many Americans. It makes the lives of mothers harder and drives fathers further from families. It increases the odds children from Middle America will drop out of high school, end up in trouble with the law, become pregnant as teenagers, or otherwise lose their way.”
There really is a point to today’s nod to romance. Love and marriage are worth preserving, even celebrating.