Correction to This Article
A July 1 Page One article about research on marriage and children misstated the frequency of births to unmarried women. It is should have said nearly four in 10, not nearly one in four.

To Be Happy In Marriage, Baby Carriage Not Required

By Donna St. George
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 1, 2007

Children rank as the highest source of personal fulfillment for their parents but have dropped to one of the least-cited factors in a successful marriage, according to a national survey to be released today.

In a study that shows how separately marriage and children are viewed, Americans expressed great passion for their sons and daughters but clearly did not see them as the glue of their adult relationships.

On a list of nine contributors to success in marriage, children were trumped by faithfulness, a happy sexual relationship, household chore-sharing, economic factors such as adequate income and good housing, common religious beliefs, and shared tastes and interests, the nonprofit Pew Research Center found.

"Marriage today, like the rest of our lives, is about personal satisfaction," said Andrew J. Cherlin, a sociology and public policy professor at Johns Hopkins University, noting that there are mixed consequences for the changing views of marriage.

"It allows us to grow and change throughout our lives, and most Americans value that," Cherlin said. "On the other hand, our relationships are much more fragile, because we think we should leave them if they become unsatisfying."

The 88-page report, bringing together demographic trends and survey results from interviews of 2,020 adults this year, underscores a widening gap between parenthood and marriage -- at a time when living together out of wedlock has grown increasingly common and nearly one in four births is to an unmarried woman.

As Sarah Vassiliou, 42, of the District described it: "When I think of marriage, I don't think of children at all. I have them. But with marriage, I think of a husband and a wife, and I don't think it's the children that make it work."

Her views are reflected in several statistics. Asked about the purpose of marriage, for example, Americans said by a nearly 3-to-1 ratio that it is the "mutual happiness and fulfillment" of adults rather than the "bearing and raising of children."

When given the list of nine features to consider as part of a successful marriage, 41 percent of Americans said children were "very important," compared with 65 percent in 1990, a 24 percentage-point drop the report calls "perhaps the single most striking finding from the survey." The other major difference was in chore-sharing, which went up in importance by 15 percentage points to 62 percent.

This might be explained by a greater emphasis on soul mate relationships in marriage and an increasing recognition of the stress involved in raising children, said Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University. There is also a more widespread belief that having children is a choice, she said.

"Marriage and kids were kind of hyphenated before," she said, "and now the hyphens have been removed."

However, parental love and appreciation are not in dispute.

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