Family Still Matters Most

Laments about the decline of the traditional family have become a tradition in their own right as households with married parents and a couple of rosy-cheeked kids have ceased to be a demographic norm. Even while documenting a decline in the centrality of marriage in modern society, though, a Pew Research Center survey finds Americans still intensely attached to family life.

Fielded last month in tandem with Time, the survey found majorities of respondents across population segments agreeing that family is “the most important element of my life.” Seventy-four percent of men and 77 percent of women assented to this. Among 18-29-year-olds, most of whom have yet to marry and reproduce, 71 percent rated family the paramount element in their lives — as did 80 percent of 30-49s, 76 percent of 50-64s and 73 percent of 65-plusers.

Given such numbers, it’s a good thing that most people are happy with the family life they’ve got. Even among those who are divorced/separated, 50 percent said they’re very satisfied with their family life. The incidence of such satisfaction is higher (84 percent) among those who are married. As you can see from the chart, the Tiny Tim-inspired image of poor households deriving the greatest joy from family life doesn’t square with the opinions voiced by people in the survey’s different income brackets.

While assigning great importance to family, Americans have not clung to a traditional way of defining it. One section of the poll asked whether respondents believe various kinds of households qualify as “family.” Virtually all respondents (99 percent) put a “married couple with children” in that category.

But big majorities also accorded this status to “married couple without children” (88 percent), “single parent with children” (86 percent), “unmarried couple with children” (80 percent) and “same-sex couple with children” (63 percent).

For that matter, sizable minorities said the same about “same-sex couple without children” (45 percent) and “unmarried couple without children” (43 percent).

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