4. Married parents spend less time with their kids than they used to.
In 1965, according to data from the federal study of how people use their time, mothers spent 10 hours each week, on average, focused on their children. Since that time, all moms have increased the time they spend with their kids, even as they have also increased their work hours. But college-educated mothers, the people most likely to have careers and to return to work in the first year after childbirth, increased time with their kids at more than twice the rate of less-educated mothers. By 2007, according to economists Garey Ramey and Valerie Ramey, college-educated women were, on average, spending 21 .2 hours a week focused on their kids, while moms with less education were doing 15.9 hours a week.
In 1965, fathers averaged barely three hours a week doing primary child care. By 2007, economists Betsey Stevenson and Dan Sacks report, that had risen to almost 7 hours a week for less-educated dads, and almost 10 hours for those with a college degree.
5. Married couples are the building blocks of community life.
All that time couples invest in their children comes at the expense of being involved in the world beyond the family’s front door. Sociologists Naomi Gerstel and Natalia Sarkisian report that married women and men are less likely to visit and give practical assistance to their extended families than are the unmarried. Men without wives are much more likely to call their parents than their married peers.
Economically as well as emotionally, modern marriage has become like an affluent gated community. It has become harder for low-income Americans to enter and sustain. But for the educated, two-income families whose divorce rates have been falling and who spend more time with their children than they used to, marriage brings more relative advantages than in the past.
The notion that marriage is an impediment to commitments to the larger community is a long-standing one — and one reason early Christians did not place the institution at the top of their moral hierarchy, complaining that married couples cared more about pleasing each other than doing the Lord’s work. It wasn’t until 1215 that marriage became a sacrament.
Stephanie Coontz is the author of “Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage.” She teaches at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., and co-chairs the Council on Contemporary Families.
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Five myths about gay marriage
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