Commentary: Let's revive marriage in America

    Only 51 percent of merican adults are married - a record low - down from 72 percent in 1960, accordingto a Pew Research Center analysis of census data. There are three ma or factors behind these trends.

    First, the number of never-married mericans nearly doubled, from 15 percent to 28 percent, between1960 and 2010. Pew said that many couples are cohabiting instead of marrying because "they feardivorce." Why? Many are adult children of divorce who do not want to live through such pain again.

    Second, the number of divorced and un-remarried people has grown from 5 percent to 14 percent of thepopulation.

    Third, in the past 50 years, the median age at which people first marry has umped six years - to 26 forwomen and to 29 for men. Today, only a fifth of adults ages 18 to 29 are married, vs. three times asmany in 1960, 59 percent.

    What's troubling is not the later age at which people marry, which is generally wise, but the fact that only72 percent of today's adults have ever married, versus 85 percent in 1960.

    What is behind this shift? nother recent Pew survey reported that four in 10 mericans think marriage is"becoming obsolete." Particularly interesting is that 47 percent of those who think marriage is becomingobsolete say they would like to marry; virtually the same share (45 percent) of unmarried adults who thinkmarriage is not becoming obsolete say they want to wed.

    Those numbers suggest a strategy for churches, which perform nine of 10 weddings: Make a case formarriage from the pulpit. True, there aren't many cohabiting couples in church, but millions ofchurchgoing parents of adult children do not know what to say to them. What arguments might pastorsmake about the value of marriage?

    I recommend that clergy read "The State of Our Unions: Marriage in merica 2011. " Its co-authors areW. Bradford Wilcox of the National Marriage Pro ect at the University of Virginia and Elizabeth Marquardtof the Institute for merican Values' Center for Marriage and Families. Their report, "When Baby MakesThree," provides evidence of what every pastor has believed: "Couples who both agree that 'God is atthe center of our marriage' are at least 26 percentage points more likely to report that they are 'veryhappy.' " While 50 percent of men and women report being very happy, of those who believe God is atthe center of their marriage, 77 percent of women and 76 percent of men are very happy.

    Similarly, mothers and fathers who see parenting as one of "life's greatest oys" are about twice as likelyto report being very happy in their marriages. However, the report cautions that "parenthood is typicallyassociated with lower levels of marital happiness." Having a baby requires sacrifices, such as a loss ofsleep, less disposable income and often less quality time with one another, resulting in less sex.

    And there is a sad paradox among young mericans. While most would like to have two or threechildren, "a growing share of young women and men believe that a good marriage is personallyunattainable, and more are raising children outside of marriage."

    However, the report provides new evidence that both husbands and wives (but wives especially) are"more likely than their childless peers to feel their lives have a sense of meaning and purpose." nd asubstantial minority of married couples do not experience parenthood as an obstacle to maritalhappiness.

    What is their secret? Two answers are shared housework chores and sexual satisfaction. One suprise is that the happiest wives and husbands today "are those with no children and those with four or morechildren." nother factor is education. mericans without college degrees are three times as likely todivorce in the first 10 years of marriage compared with those with college education.

    But most important is a shared faith that endows marriage "with transcendent significance." ttendingservices together is a top predictor of marital stability. Finally, "parenthood makes life meaningful andmarriage makes parenthood bearable."

    Mike McManus is president of Marriage Savers, www.marriagesavers.org. He wrote this for TheBaltimore Sun.