The State of Marriage in the U.S. – It is Very Important to Half of Americans

    NEW YORK , N.Y. – April 14, 2014 – As The Beatles sang, All you need is love – but do you need marriage? How important is the institution of marriage in today’s modern society? Pretty important, as seven in ten U.S. adults (71%) say marriage is important to Americans in general, with over one-quarter (28%) saying it is very important. When it comes to them personally, three-quarters of Americans (75%) say marriage is important, with half (50%) saying it is very important. And, while one might think that men and women have different answers on this, they are not as different as one might think – as just over half of women (54%) say marriage is very important to them personally and just under half of men (45%) say the same.

    These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,266 adults surveyed online between February 12 and 17, 2014.

    Marriage is what brings us together today, that blessed arrangement, that dream within a dream. – The Impressive Clergyman, The Princess Bride

    While marriage may still be important, the idea of marriage has gone through some changes over the decades. Almost three-quarters of Americans (72%) say, when compared to previous generations, the idea of marriage today is less important than it was; one in five (20%) say it is just as important and only 4% believe it is more important today. And this attitude is consistent across the generations. Seven in ten of both Millennials (71%) and Gen Xers (71%), 72% of Baby Boomers and three-quarters (75%) of Matures all say the idea of marriage is less important today when compared to previous generations.

    But, when asked to think back to the TV sitcoms from the 1950s and 1960s, with the father heading to work and providing for the family while the mother stayed home, took care of the kids and had dinner ready every night, seven in ten Americans (69%) do not think this is how families should look today while three in ten (31%) believe it is. Here, however, there is a generational difference. Matures are divided, with just under half (46%) saying this is how families should look and 54% saying it is not. Three-quarters of Millennials (74%), on the other hand, say it is not how families should look, as do 72% of Gen Xers and 69% of Baby Boomers.

    When a match has equal partners, then I fear not. – Aeschylus

    As women’s rights changed across the centuries so did the dynamic of a marriage and four in five Americans (82%) agree that in a marriage, men and women are equal in every way, with half (51%) strongly agreeing. In fact, just 16% of Americans agree that to make a marriage work, one partner needs to be dominant.

    Marriage is a fine institution, but I’m not ready for an institution. – Mae West

    But marriage may not be for everyone. In fact, two in five U.S. adults (39%) agree that marriage is not necessary. More than two in five men agree with this, compared to just over one-third of women (43% compared to 36%). And, setting the stage for the future of marriage, there is a generational divide. Just one in five Matures (19%) agree that marriage is not necessary, compared to over half of Millennials (54%).

    A family is a unit comprised not only of children, but of men, women, an occasional animal and the common cold. – Ogden Nash

    In most marriages, at some point down the road (or occasionally before the vows are even taken) there is a child that causes the couple to become a family. And, while unfortunately not every marriage works, two-thirds of Americans (67%) agree that children need to be brought up in a family where the parents are married, with one-third strongly agreeing (34%) and one-third somewhat agreeing (33%). There is a large generational divide on this, as over four in five Matures (86%) agree compared to three in five Millennials (60%).

    There is also the issue of staying at home with the children or not, and over half of U.S. adults (57%) agree that children should ideally be raised in a household with a stay at home parent, while 43% disagree with this notion. There is a greater agreement about one factor of the stay at home parent – over four in five (83%) agree that in households with a stay at home parent, it is not important whether it is the mother or the father; 45% strongly agree.

    To marry is the biggest risk in human relations that a person can take. – Madeleine L’Engle

    For some, before marrying there may be co-habitation. Over half of Americans (57%) agree that couples should live together before getting married while 43% disagree. Again there are some generational gaps on this idea, as just one-third of Matures (32%) agree that couples should live together first, compared to about two-thirds of Gen Xers (65%) and Millennials (68%). There is also a gender gap, as two-thirds of men (65%) agree that couples should live together, compared to just half of women (50%).

    And, marriage is not for only men and women, but also for same sex couples – depending on who you ask. Americans are truly divided on this, as just over half (51%) do not believe that the term marriage should only apply to a man and a woman, while just under half (49%) agree that it should. Once again, the generations think differently, as two-thirds of Matures (68%) agree that the term should only apply to a man and a woman, compared to less than two in five Millennials (38%).

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    TABLE 1

    IMPORTANCE OF MARRIAGE TO AMERICANS

    How important do you believe marriage is to Americans in general?

    Base: All adults

    Total

    Generation

    Gender

    Millennial (18-36)

    Gen X (37-48)

    Baby Boomers (49-67)

    Matures (68+)

    Men

    Women

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    IMPORTANT (NET)

    71

    68

    69

    70

    84

    72

    70

    Very important

    28

    21

    21

    31

    46

    29

    27

    Important

    43

    47

    48

    38

    38

    42

    43

    NOT IMPORTANT (NET)

    29

    32

    31

    30

    16

    28

    30

    Not that important

    25

    27

    26

    27

    15

    24

    26

    Not at all important

    4

    5

    5

    3

    1

    5

    4

    Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding

     

    TABLE 2

    IMPORTANCE OF MARRIAGE TO YOU PERSONALLY

    And, how important is marriage to you personally?

    Base: All adults

    Total

    Generation

    Gender

    Millennial (18-36)

    Gen X (37-48)

    Baby Boomers (49-67)

    Matures (68+)

    Men

    Women

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    IMPORTANT (NET)

    75

    73

    77

    75

    81

    72

    79

    Very important

    50

    43

    49

    50

    68

    45

    54

    Important

    26

    30

    28

    25

    14

    26

    25

    NOT IMPORTANT (NET)

    25

    27

    23

    25

    19

    28

    21

    Not that important

    15

    15

    17

    16

    11

    18

    13

    Not at all important

    9

    11

    7

    9

    8

    11

    8

    Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding

     

    TABLE 3

    CHANGING IMPORTANCE OF MARRIAGE

    Compared to previous generations, do you think the idea of marriage today is…?

    Base: All adults

    Total

    Generation

    Gender

    Millennial (18-36)

    Gen X (37-48)

    Baby Boomers (49-67)

    Matures (68+)

    Men

    Women

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    More important than it was

    4

    5

    3

    4

    3

    5

    4

    Just as important as it was

    20

    18

    21

    21

    20

    24

    16

    Less important than it was

    72

    71

    71

    72

    75

    67

    76

    Not at all sure

    4

    6

    5

    2

    3

    4

    4

    Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding

    TABLE 4

    ATTITUDES ON MARRIAGE

    How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

    Base: All adults

    AGREE (NET)

    Strongly agree

    Somewhat agree

    DISAGREE (NET)

    Somewhat disagree

    Strongly disagree

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    In households with a stay at home parent, it is not important whether it is the mother or the father.

    83

    45

    38

    17

    12

    5

    In a marriage, men and women are equal in every way.

    82

    51

    31

    18

    14

    4

    Children need to be brought up in a family where their parents are married.

    67

    34

    33

    33

    22

    11

    Couples should live together before getting married

    57

    18

    39

    43

    22

    21

    Children should ideally be raised in a household with a stay at home parent.

    57

    18

    39

    43

    31

    13

    The term marriage should only apply when between a man and a woman.

    49

    36

    14

    51

    16

    35

    Marriage is not necessary.

    39

    13

    27

    61

    26

    34

    To make a marriage work, one partner needs to be dominant.

    16

    4

    13

    84

    29

    54

    Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding


    TABLE 5

    ATTITUDES ON MARRIAGE – By Generation and Gender

    How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

    Percent saying Strongly/Somewhat Agree

    Base: All adults

    Total

    Generation

    Gender

    Millennials (18-36)

    Gen X (37-48)

    Baby Boomers (49-67)

    Matures (68+)

    Men

    Women

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    In households with a stay at home parent, it is not important whether it is the mother or the father.

    83

    83

    85

    86

    76

    81

    86

    In a marriage, men and women are equal in every way.

    82

    82

    78

    84

    86

    83

    81

    Children need to be brought up in a family where their parents are married.

    67

    60

    66

    67

    86

    67

    67

    Couples should live together before getting married

    57

    68

    65

    52

    32

    65

    50

    Children should ideally be raised in a household with a stay at home parent.

    57

    52

    53

    58

    70

    60

    54

    The term marriage should only apply when between a man and a woman.

    49

    38

    48

    53

    68

    54

    45

    Marriage is not necessary.

    39

    54

    41

    34

    19

    43

    36

    To make a marriage work, one partner needs to be dominant.

    16

    23

    16

    12

    14

    19

    14

    Note: Multiple responses allowed

     

    TABLE 6

    THE SITCOM FAMILY

    Think back to the TV sitcoms from the 1950s and 1960s where the family had the father heading to work and providing for the family and the mother would stay at home, take care of the kids and have dinner ready every night. Do you think this is how families should look today?

    Base: All adults

    Total

    Generation

    Gender

    Political Party

    Millennial (18-36)

    Gen X (37-48)

    Baby Boomers (49-67)

    Matures (68+)

    Men

    Women

    Rep.

    Dem.

    Ind.

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Yes

    31

    26

    28

    31

    46

    33

    29

    42

    22

    33

    No

    69

    74

    72

    69

    54

    67

    71

    58

    72

    67

    Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding

    Methodology

    This Harris Poll® was conducted online within the United States between February 12 and 17, 2014 among 2,266 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

    All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

    Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

    These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

    The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

    Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

    The Harris Poll® #36, April 14, 2014

    By Regina A. Corso, VP, The Harris Poll and Public Relations Research

    About Nielsen & The Harris Poll

    On February 3, 2014, Nielsen acquired Harris Interactive and The Harris Poll. Nielsen Holdings N.V. (NYSE: NLSN) is a global information and measurement company with leading market positions in marketing and consumer information, television and other media measurement, online intelligence and mobile measurement. Nielsen has a presence in approximately 100 countries, with headquarters in New York, USA and Diemen, the Netherlands. For more information, visit www.nielsen.com.