A few decades ago, marriages were the foundation of what many commentators referred to as “the traditional family.” Now marriages and families are taking some very unfamiliar shapes and orientations due to different views of marriage and family.
Americans are not exactly sure about what to think about these dramatic changes in marriage and family. On the one hand, they believe that marriage and family are very important. One survey found that their readers rated their relationship to their spouse as the single most important factor in their personal happiness. On the other hand, Americans are much less sanguine about other people’s marriages and families.
I call this the “Lake Wobegon effect” where “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are about average.” In other words, their marriage and family are fine, but the rest of the marriages and families are not. The MassMutual Family Values Study found that a majority (81 percent) pointed to their family as the greatest source of pleasure, it also found that a majority (56 percent) rated the family in the U.S. “only fair” or “poor.” And almost six in ten expected it to get worse in the next ten years. The survey came to the same conclusion that I mentioned earlier. It said that: “Americans seem to see the family in decline everywhere but in their own home.”
Similar results can be found in many other nationwide polls. A Gallup poll found that Americans believe the family is worse off today then it was ten years ago. And they believed it would be worse off in the future as well. This belief that the future will be worse than the present appears to be true not only for family but for other social issues as well.
While most Americans feel good about their own marriage and family, they are concerned about other marriages and family. Perhaps their own experience is closer to reality.