Faith, family and the decline in the number of marriages

For decades, viewers have enjoyed the Japanese reality series “Old Enough!” in which preschoolers venture into the streets alone to run errands for their parents.

What if American women asked their living boyfriends to stop playing video games, get off their couches and run errands? In the “Saturday Night Live” skit “Old Enough! Longterm Boyfriends!”, guest host Selena Gomez asked her impotent boyfriend of three years, played by actor Mikey Day, to buy her eyeliner and two shallots.

This baby-man ends up in tears with a big bag of onions and “an African-American women’s blush palette.” Frustrated girlfriend says she might need a glass of wine mid-morning.

There was wisdom in that comedy, for pastors willing to see it, said sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.

“There is a whole class of young men who are not thriving personally and professionally. … The systems that help build attractive and successful men have broken down. Churches were once one of those support systems” , he said, reached by telephone. .

“The future of the church is through strong marriages and happy families. Churches that find ways to help men and women prepare for marriage and then encourage them to start families are the churches that will have a future.”

The crisis is bigger than lonely, underemployed, internet-addicted men. A growing number of young women are anxious, depressed and even choosing self-harm and suicide.

The coronavirus pandemic made matters worse, but researchers were already seeing dangerous signs, San Diego State psychology professor Jean Twenge noted in a recent Institute for Family Studies essay. She is the author of the book “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood — and What It Means for the Rest of us”.

“Something started going wrong in teenage life about 10 years ago,” she noted. “At first, I had no idea why teenage depression was increasing so much. … But then I noticed big trends in teens’ social lives: they were spending less time with their friends in person and more time online. This tends not to be a good formula for mental health, especially for girls, and especially when that time online is spent on social media.”

Meanwhile, a Pew Research Center study found that most single American adults, even before the coronavirus, were depressed about dating and building relationships. Last February, 70% of respondents said that “their love life is not going well”.

The survey summary noted: “A majority of single Americans overall are out of the dating market – 56% say they are not currently looking for a relationship or casual dates, up slightly from up from 50% in 2019. Of the 44% who are currently looking, 32% say they are only looking for a serious relationship, 16% are only looking for casual dates, and about half are open to a relationship or dates. -you.”

It makes sense to relate these numbers to birth rates in the United States, which have been falling for more than a decade. During the pandemic, the fertility rate saw its biggest single-year drop in 50 years, to 1.6 per woman, then rebounded slightly to 1.7 in 2021 – well below the population replacement rate. of 2.1 children per woman.

These trends should be of particular concern to clergy, as religious faith plays a central role in deciding who gets married and who doesn’t, according to Brian Willoughby of the Brigham Young University School of Family Life.

When researchers study “the raw number of marriages in the United States, a clear and unique pattern emerges,” he writes for the Institute for Family Studies. “Despite a steady increase in population each year, the number of marriages has declined over the past 20 years.”

What does religious faith have to do with it?

“Recent findings confirm what I and others have noted for several years,” he added. “Marriage is slowly becoming an institution primarily used by religious people, who continue to view marriage as a symbolic representation of lifelong commitment to one’s partner. While non-religious couples certainly value commitment and still marry, from More and more non-religious couples are opting for long-term cohabitation, while a growing number of individuals in the United States and Europe are choosing to remain single.”

Next week: Is there anything faith groups can do to help?

Terry Mattingly runs and lives in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is a principal investigator at the Overby Center at the University of Mississippi.

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