November 27, 2010
Pew + Marriage = ConfusionBy Tom Trinko
Once again, the Pew Foundation has come out with a poll that has given liberals a sound bite moment. You've probably heard that 39% of Americans said that marriage is becoming obsolete.
Yet as with the Pew poll on religion, a broader examination reveals results that liberals would like to ignore. Among them is a reference to a 2006 World Values Survey that showed that only 13% of Americans believed that marriage was an outdated institution.
It seems odd that in four years, the number of Americans who reject marriage would increase threefold. Perhaps the apparent change is due to how the Pew poll question was worded. The actual question was "Some people say that the present institution of marriage is becoming obsolete -- do you agree or disagree?" The first thing to note is that this is a push-poll type of question: the wording is going to raise concern in some individuals about being out of step or controversial if they disagree with the question's premise. After all, studies have shown that people will lie to pollsters to avoid appearing reactionary.
But the key problem with the question is that there are different definitions of obsolete. The liberals are spinning the poll results to indicate that 39% of Americans think there's no need for marriage -- that if it disappeared, there would be no problems. That's not the only way to look at the results, however.
Many people might feel that marriage is obsolete as the only living relationship between two people who engage in sex. Others might feel that marriage without the option for divorce is obsolete. In both cases, the respondent might believe that marriage is the best thing, but that some "other" folks are just too dumb, promiscuous, irresponsible -- pick your own derogatory term -- to be married, so there should be options for them.
Interestingly enough, 31% of married people said that marriage is becoming obsolete. That would tend to indicate that either nearly a third of married people are stupid. (If marriage is obsolete, why did they make the commitment?) Or if 31% of married people find marriage obsolete, they don't think it should go away.
By examining other data in the poll, it's possible to find a much more pro-marriage story than the sound bite synopsis that the MSM provided.
The poll makes a big deal of how fewer people are married today than in 1960. Pew states that in 1960, 72% of all adults were married compared to 52% in 2008. They do mention that since the average age of marriage has increased dramatically, comparing those two numbers is somewhat meaningless.
More importantly, however, the poll determined that roughly 61% of people who have never been married want to be. Let's use that bit of information to figure out what fraction of American adults believe in marriage enough to either want to be married, be married, or have been married.
First notice that 48% of the population (100% - 52% = 48%) is currently single. That means that 48% of American adults have either never been married, are widowers, or are currently divorced. Let's assume that everyone in that 48% of American adults is single and never married -- that assumption will give us the most anti-marriage result. Remembering that 61% of people who have never been married want to be married that means that 29% of all adult Americans (48%*61%=29%) who are currently unmarried want to be married. Adding 29% -- those who want to be married -- to 52%--those who are married -- shows that 81% of Americans want to be married, are married, or have been married -- widowers and divorcees. Hardly a condemnation of the institution of marriage.
Equally revealing is that for those people who've never been married, only about 14% are sure they don't want to be married. Hence, instead of 39% of the population rejecting marriage, only about 7% of the total population have actually decided that they don't ever want to get married.
Similarly, when asked questions indirectly related to marriage, people have a much more positive view on the institution. For example 77% of people think it's easier to raise a family when married, as opposed to 2% who thought it was easier to raise a family when single. Since from a societal perspective, the key aspect of marriage is raising families, the people polled by Pew don't seem to disagree with the importance or utility of marriage. The only area where the poll respondents found an advantage for single people was in getting ahead in a career.
Another interesting result is that the more educated you are, the more likely you are to support marriage and be married. In 2008, 64% of college graduates were married, as opposed to 48% of non-college graduates. In other polls, whenever there's a gap between the "intelligentsia" and the rest of us, liberals always tell us that we should realize that the educated people's position is best because, well...the educated people are smart. That particular tidbit is lacking in the coverage of this new Pew poll.
There are other inconsistencies in the poll as well. For example, while 62% of singles living with a partner said that marriage is becoming obsolete, 64% of the same group said they want to marry. Clearly, not everyone who said marriage is becoming obsolete meant that marriage is either no good or unimportant.
When it comes to children, the poll shows that the majority of Americans believe in what are fondly called traditional values. In addition to the 77% who said that it's easier to raise a family if you're married, 69% feel that more single women having children is a bad thing. Only 4% view more single women having children as a good thing. The results may be skewed, in that 32% said the increase in single women having children made no difference. Given that in the context of the poll, "single women" includes those living with partners, it is highly likely that a significant portion of the 32% were thinking of women living in committed heterosexual non-marital relationships -- i.e., a marriage in everything but name.
Finally while 39% said that marriage is becoming obsolete, only 27% were pessimistic about the institution of marriage and the family, while 67% were optimistic. That can mean one of two things: one, 12% of people think that marriage is obsolete but it will keep going, and that's good; or two, nearly a third of the people included in the 39% didn't mean that marriage was bad or going out of style even though they said it was becoming obsolete.
The accuracy of the Pew data is also questionable. According to Pew, less than half the American public opposes gay marriage. Yet everywhere people get to vote directly or indirectly on gay marriage, it loses. Even in California, certainly the gay-friendliest state around, a significant majority of voters opposed gay marriage.
This is the second major Pew poll in the last six months to produce liberal-friendly sound bites. But on closer examination, the poll does not really show what the sound bite says. It might not be imprudent to wonder if, either intentionally or unintentionally, the Pew Foundation is biased. If you read the actual Pew report, you'll find wording that supports the view that Americans think marriage isn't so great. After a few pages, you'll get to the more positive news. Perhaps the MSM reporters, after not having bothered to read the health care bill, have fallen into the habit of not reading all of the Pew reports as well.
In any case, just as Pew's own data didn't show that atheists know more about religion than religious people do, this poll's own data shows that most Americans think marriage is both good and necessary.
Read more at obvioustalk.blogspot.com.