Study Says Marriage Offers Significant Benefits for Men and Women but Eludes Many

American family life has profoundly changed over the past half century. The marriage rate is falling, women are having fewer children, and many Americans, young adults in particular, are rethinking what it means to be a family. But despite these changes, few Americans say the institution of marriage is outdated, and it remains a goal for most single Americans, who express interest in getting married one day.

The institution of marriage is evolving in important ways. Religion, which at one time was at the center of much of American family and married life, has become less prominent. Not only are interfaith unions increasingly common, so are marriages among people who have no religion. For couples married before 1972, roughly eight in 10 (81 percent) share the same faith as their partner, and just 3 percent are in secular marriages. In contrast, just over half (52 percent) of couples married in the past decade are in same-faith marriages, while 16 percent are in secular unions.

Americans still report high levels of satisfaction in their relationship with their spouse, and the social benefits of marriage remain considerable. The overwhelming number of married Americans have a positive view about their relationship with their spouse. Compared to Americans who are unmarried, married Americans are more likely to report that they have a satisfying social life and a larger group of close friends. They also say they are more satisfied with their personal health than their single peers do. Yet men appear to accrue these advantages at somewhat greater rates than women do. There is also a massive perception gap between men and women in the division of household labor. Women are far more likely than men to say they take on the lion’s share of domestic tasks, and mothers in particular say they do this when making decisions regarding their children.

The contours of American family life have changed considerably in recent years, but some of our most important formative influences remain the same. Most Americans report growing up with a sibling, and few experiences have a more unique or enduring impact than sibling relationships. Most Americans with siblings say they had a reasonably close relationship with their brothers and sisters growing up, and middle children notably report the closest relationships. Parental favoritism appears to exert a crucial role in how Americans relate to their siblings and broader feelings of social connection and kinship. Overall, 40 percent of Americans who grew up with siblings report that their parents had a favorite child. Americans who perceived their parents picked favorites feel less close to their siblings and their parents and were more likely to report feeling lonely while growing up than those who said their parents had no favorites report.

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Source: Survey Center on American Life