Data shows that Americans highly value marriage and that most marriages succeed
by Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson
Popular wisdom holds that marriage in the United States — and in many other places — fails as often as it succeeds. "One in two marriages end in divorce" is a mantra spoken by news reporters, pundits and politicians alike. Some have gone so far as to suggest that we now live in a society that can just as well do without marriage.
But behind all the discussions and misused statistics about the decline of marriage, there is undoubtedly more good news than bad. In my recent book Beyond A House Divided: The Moral Consensus Ignored by Washington, Wall Street and the Media(Doubleday, 2010), I devote an entire chapter to this point.
Notably, the "half of all marriages fail" statistic is simply incorrect. It is derived from the idea that there are half as many divorces as marriages and does not take into account the success of first marriages. By contrast, statistics from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia indicate that more than six in 10 first marriages remain intact. Our own polling showed something similar: Almost two-thirds of Americans who had married (63 percent) had never been divorced. In other words, divorce was the experience of fewer than four in 10.
Thankfully, these numbers are lower than most people think. But with the often-devastating effect of divorce on children, we must work hard to ensure that these numbers go down even further by our witness and by the advice we give to our married friends.
This message regarding the good news about marriage is getting through. According to our polling, almost two-thirds of Americans (64 percent) say that divorce causes more problems than it solves, especially if children are involved.
While it is certainly good news that the majority of married Americans will never experience divorce, there is better news: Among those who are married, 91 percent of those we polled said they are either happy (33 percent) or very happy (58 percent).
Other polling has also consistently found that more than nine in 10 married Americans think they married the right person, or would marry the same person if they had to make the decision all over again.
Perhaps the most encouraging finding is that Americans most commonly cite getting married as their top "life goal," and about three-quarters of them say marriage ought to be valued more.
This perspective is not limited only to older generations either. In fact, Millennials (adults aged 18-25) stated that marriage is more undervalued than anything else, including personal responsibility, respect for others, honesty and integrity, concern for the less fortunate, respect for the law, and belief in God.
Of course, the good news doesn't mean we should ignore the many threats to marriage and the family that exist today. Instead, we should take the opportunity — in a society in which the vast majority of people still marry — to lead by example. We should be aware of the fact that people innately know that marriage is a good thing and are most often happy in their marriages, and that a strong majority of couples work together to make "happily ever after" a reality.
In the quest to be men who lead by example in our own lives — at home and in public — we Knights have an excellent role model in St. Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary and foster father of Jesus. In addition, one of St. Joseph's greatest champions was canonized last month — the beloved Brother André Bessette.
With the guidance of St. Joseph and the newly canonized St. André of Montreal, let us all resolve to let the beauty of the sacrament of marriage be present in our lives and, no matter our vocation, live as faithful witnesses of that reality.