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Thursday, March 17, 2011
This is the third in a series of reflections on a recent marriage study “The State of Our Unions 2010” published by the UVA National Marriage Project (NMP). Catch part 1 here (shifting attitudes on premarital sex and cohabitation) and Part 2 here (my hope for marriages in the church to be a beacon of marital hope).

This is the final installment of this short series, not because there isn’t more good stuff to be gleaned from this study, but because I’ve got so many other posts I want to get to - I just need to move on.

The concluding statement from the study reads as follows:
But if we seek to renew the fortunes of marriage in Middle America and to close the marriage gap between the moderately and the highly educated, we must pursue public policies that strengthen the employment opportunities of the high-school educated, cultural reforms that seek to reconnect marriage and parenthood for all Americans, and efforts to strengthen religious and civic institutions that lend our lives meaning, direction, and a measure of regard for our neighbors—not to mention our spouses.

The alternative to taking economic, cultural, and civic steps like these is to accept that the United States is devolving into a separate-and-unequal family regime, where the highly edu¬cated and the affluent enjoy strong and stable households and everyone else is consigned to increasingly unstable, unhappy, and unworkable ones.

I’ve already examined two of the study’s three primary negative marriages factors, which leaves the economic issue. Essentially the study concludes that the stresses of limited financial prospects caused by a limited education have a negative effect on marriage:
Thus the shifting economic foundations of American economic life—especially the fraying connections of moderately educated Americans to the world of work—have played an important role in marginalizing marriage in Middle America

But a more recent NMP study, The Great Recession and Marriage, released in February, examined the effect of the recession on marriage. And it seems to draw an opposing conclusion. The second study says that in recent years, as a result of the recession, many couples report deepening their commitment to marriage. In addition, a large minority of couples who were considering divorce say the recession has caused them to postpone their plans.

Then, on the heels of that study, NPR produced a story claiming that “In a grim sign of the economic recovery, the divorce rate, which dipped during the recession, appears to be on the rebound.” Their use of the word "appears" is key. The evidence to support their claim is mostly anecdotal in nature, attained through the comments of a few divorce lawyers and goes on to theorize why it "might" be true. The last line of the story mentions and links to the NMP study. But the NPR story completely misses an important aspect of the second NMP study.

The important finding here really brings me back to my previous post. That is, marriages for whom faith is a central part of their marriage the recession actually reported less financial stress and a deeper commitment to marriage when compared to those who do not share a deep faith.

That’s not to say that marriages in the church are immune to economic influences. I’ve certainly observed first hand the martial stress that results from long-term unemployment and deep debt. But what’s encouraging to me is that there does seem to be at least some mitigation of the influence of the bad economy for those who can lean on their faith in such times.

What is the “so what” of all this. I would put it this way:
When your life is built on the shifting sands of your financial prospects, your marriage will wax and wane with the thickness of your wallet. But when your life and your marriage are founded on the solid rock, Jesus, financial storms will have a much smaller negative impact. And for some it may even have a positive impact.  (Matt 7:24-27)

What are you building your marriage on?


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