Are Americans Still in Love with Marriage?

July 6, 1990

Report Outline
Special Focus


Americans aren't as devoted to marriage as they used to be. People are getting married later—or not at all. Cohabitation is no longer considered deviant behavior. The divorce rate remains high. The proportion of out-of-wedlock births is up significantly. In spite of it all, most Americans still get married, and the institution of marriage survives. But experts are worried about the many children growing up in fatherless families.

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Love and marriage. They go together, the 1950s song said, like a horse and carriage. And in the '50s, they actually did. But in 1990, after three decades of profound social change, the venerable institution of marriage no longer seems quite so inevitable. While there's little chance it will end up like the horse-drawn carriage, a relic in a museum, marriage clearly doesn't have the same hold on America that it once did. In fact, some people have even begun to speak of a “postmarital society.”

“[G]etting married, having children and staying married are now matters of choice, rather than things taken for granted,” say sociologists Robert N. Bellah, Richard Madsen, William M. Sullivan, Ann Swidler and Steven M. Tipton in their book, Habits of the Heart. “[This] creates a new atmosphere for marriage and a new meaning for family life.”

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Marriage, Divorce, and Single Parents
Dec. 01, 2017  Future of Marriage
May 07, 2004  Future of Marriage
Jan. 19, 2001  Children and Divorce
Jun. 02, 2000  Fatherhood Movement
May 10, 1996  Marriage and Divorce
Jan. 13, 1995  Child Custody and Support
Jun. 07, 1991  Children and Divorce
Oct. 26, 1990  Child Support: Payments, Progress and Problems
Jul. 06, 1990  Are Americans Still in Love with Marriage?
Feb. 03, 1989  Joint Custody: Is it Good for the Children?
Mar. 12, 1982  Trends in Child Custody and Support
Jun. 03, 1977  The Changing American Family
Sep. 10, 1976  Single-Parent Families
Jan. 25, 1974  Child Support
Oct. 10, 1973  No-Fault Divorce
Oct. 06, 1971  Marriage: Changing Institution
Nov. 27, 1963  Divorce Law Reform
May 24, 1961  Mixed Marriage
Apr. 20, 1959  Rise in Illegitimacy
Feb. 02, 1949  Marriage and Divorce
Marriage and Divorce