Pew: Americans pessimistic about future of marriage and family

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marriage and family
Pope Francis greets a family during an audience with representatives of most of Italy's 227 dioceses and their programs to encourage the financial support of church activities during an audience in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican Feb. 16, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — The American public’s views of the family are “complicated” and becoming “more pessimistic than optimistic about the institution of marriage and the family,” according to a new report from Pew Research Center.

Social and legal changes in recent decades have increased the variety of households in the United States, data shows. A growing share of U.S. adults in recent decades have either delayed or foregone marriage, according to Pew’s analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. The Supreme Court has in recent years expanded the legal rights of people who identify as LGBTQ+, notably in its 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision authorizing same-sex marriages nationwide, and again in a 2020 ruling finding that a key provision of the 1964 Civil Rights Act known as Title VII that bars job discrimination because of sex, includes LGBTQ+ workers.

The survey about the future of the country found that when asked about marriage and family, 40% of Americans said they are very or somewhat pessimistic about the institution of marriage and the family. Just 25% are very or somewhat optimistic; another 29% said they are neither optimistic nor pessimistic.

No typical American family

While the American public generally supports a variety of family arrangements, the survey found, they more favorably view some types of families over others. The vast majority — about 90% — said an opposite-sex couple raising children, whether married or not, is a completely acceptable arrangement, while smaller majorities said the same about single parents at 60% and about same-sex couples at 47%.

“We know that families are changing and there is no typical American family these days,” Kim Parker, Pew’s director of social and demographic trends research, said in a statement.

“Majorities find most types of families acceptable, but the public does differentiate,” she said.

“Nine-in-ten adults say a husband and wife raising children together is a completely acceptable arrangement, while around half or fewer say the same about an unmarried man and woman or a married gay or lesbian couple raising children.”

Marriage’s importance to a fulfilling life

Just 23% of Americans called being married as either extremely or very important to living a fulfilling life, while just 26% said the same of having children.

Those trends hold across religious groups. For instance, just 22% of Catholics identified marriage as either extremely or very important to living a fulfilling life; 31% said the same about having children.

The Catholic Church, in its Catechism of the Catholic Church, defines the “marriage covenant” as an “intimate communion of life and love” formed between “a man and a woman,” and is “ordered to the good of the couple, as well as to the generation and education of children.” The Church teaches that Jesus Christ raised marriage between the baptized to the dignity of a sacrament, providing them grace to strengthen them spiritually for this vocation.

When asked to rank what factors were extremely or very important for a fulfilling life, most Americans pointed to career satisfaction (71%) and having close friends (61%). Most Catholics ranked having a job or career they enjoy (77%) and having close friends (59%) as extremely or very important to living a fulfilling life.

Kate Scanlon

Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington.