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Old 08-12-2019, 10:49 AM
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Arrow The American Family Today

The American Family Today
By: Karlyn Bowman - Forbes

For the fourth year in a row, Brigham Young University and the Deseret News have conducted an in depth national online survey on the health of American families.* The annual American Family Survey does not generate headlines the way the latest polls on the shutdown or the Mueller investigation do, but it should. While Americans are deeply polarized on national political matters, many divisions largely melt away when people are asked about their family lives.

This year, as in past years, the survey found that people remain optimistic about their families. Eighty-five percent said they were the same or stronger than they were two years ago. People were less positive about American families in general. A third said they were weaker than they were two years ago, and around half said they were about the same. Fewer than 10% said American families were stronger.

As for marriage, a majority in this survey, 52%, said their own marriage was stronger than two years ago, and 40% said it was generally the same. When asked about marriages in general, only 6% said that marriages were stronger than two years ago, 41% about the same, and 37% weaker. Partisans did not differ significantly about their own marriages, but Republicans were more pessimistic about marriage generally than Democrats. As in earlier surveys, very few in this survey saw marriage as old-fashioned and out-of-date, or as more of a burden than benefit. Most Americans still want to marry and to hold on to their marriages.

This year in a new module, the survey asked about the actual and ideal relationship sequences. What should come firstóhaving sex, cohabiting, marriage, or having children? The actual order in which these milestones occur differed from the ideal order. The actual order today is sex, then cohabitation, marriage, and then children. In terms of the ideal, Americans on average think marriage should come around the same time as cohabitation.

Another module in the 2018 survey asked people how important seven things were to their personal identity. The surveyors examined spousal, parental, religious, racial, political, career, or community identities. Interestingly, partisan identity was the least likely to be important to respondents in the survey (28% said it was extremely or very important to them). Identities as parents (71%) and separately spouses (70%) were far more important. Blacks (46%) and Hispanics (18%) were more likely to say their racial identity was important to them than were whites (9%). Both groups were more invested in their identity as parents than in their racial identity.

The survey made the important point that while we hear a great deal about differences in Trumpís support by education and gender, the gap in terms of marital status is at least as large or larger. Again this is a story often lost in political discussions.

The survey asked about 12 issues facing families. They grouped the responses into economic, cultural, and family structure/stability baskets. Family structure/stability items topped the list as most important, driven by concern about parents not teaching or disciplining their children sufficiently, followed by economic issues and cultural ones. Concern about economic issues such as the cost of raising a family has risen 8 percentage points since the first American Family Survey in 2015, while concerns about cultural issues such as declines in religious faith and the widespread availability of drugs and alcohol, declined 15 points. There were partisan differences here with Republicans more concerned about cultural issues and Democrats more concerned about economic ones.

At a time when most people say the economy is in pretty good shape, Americans still worry about financial stresses that face families. The survey asked about paying 11 monthly bills or obligations, and 73% of families with children at home said they worried about paying at least one monthly bill in the past year compared to 56% of families with no children at home.

When parents with teenage children were asked about the most important issues facing teens, the overuse of technology topped the list at 53%, followed by bullying (45%) and mental health issues (36%), ahead of drugs and alcohol. Democrats were more concerned about bullying, while Republicans were more concerned about family breakdown or divorce.

With many pollsters preoccupied with the latest twists and turns in national affairs, it is useful to have a serious look at the state of American families. The BYU/Deseret News partnership is a great place to start, and we are fortunate it will continue this year.

*I serve as an advisor to the American Family Survey.

About this writer: I read the polls and take the pulse of America. Karlyn Bowman is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington, D.C. based think tank.

O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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