August 1, 2007 – Opinion Surveys Offer Encouraging Insights into U.S. Views on Marriage and the Family

August 1, 2007 – Opinion Surveys Offer Encouraging Insights into U.S. Views on Marriage and the Family

Family Watch International

August 1, 2007

Surveys Offer Encouraging
Insights into U.S. Views on
Marriage and the Family

Dear Friend of the Family,

Sharon Slater, PresidentIn recent months, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press have released a number of studies based on extensive opinion polling over several decades that provide a fascinating snapshot of the way Americans feel about marriage and parenting.  Two of these studies are especially interesting.  One focuses on the changing attitudes of women about working outside the home, and the other measures the trends over the past 20 years in core attitudes on a number of family related issues. Some of the trends revealed in these studies are very encouraging, while others are clearly a cause for concern.

The most interesting finding was that the attractiveness of full-time employment for mothers with children under 18 years has declined from 32 percent who characterized it as the “ideal” situation for them in 1997 to only 21 percent who do today.  In that time period the number of full-time working women who cited part-time work as their ideal rose to 60 percent compared to 48 percent in 1997.  The number who said not working at all would be their ideal was virtually unchanged, 20 percent in 1997 compared to 19 percent this year.

While the survey did not specifically probe why there was this change in attitude, some of the other findings suggest what may explain at least some of it.  Women in the survey were asked to score themselves on a scale of 1-10 on how they felt they were doing as mothers, with 10 being the highest.  Only 28 percent of full-time working mothers scored themselves as a 9 or 10, compared to 41 percent of mothers working part time who gave themselves this score and 43 percent of non-working mothers.  

When asked “What situation is best for children?” 52 percent of full-time working mothers said part-time work was best, and 30 percent said not working at all.  Of non-working mothers, 44 percent said not working was best, and 41 percent said working part time would be.

After more than a generation of the “Superwoman” propaganda of the feminists, it appears that more women are increasingly becoming aware (in some cases no doubt painfully so) of the reality that their responsibilities and opportunities as mothers takes (and deserves!) “quantity time.”  They are finding it is very difficult to create “quality time” when they are under stress and working full time.  Although some mothers have been able to switch to part-time work, or to not work outside the home at all, sadly, many have not.

Even though the survey of working mothers had a fairly large margin of error (a margin of error indicates how much true results could vary from the numbers cited, either higher or lower) of +/- 8 percent for the working mothers subgroup and +/- 11 percent for the at- home mothers, the results still showed some interesting trends.

There were some other very interesting results (these results of the national survey include both men and women and have a fairly standard 3 percent margin of error) from a series of questions about whether the trend cited is a good thing for society, a bad thing or it makes no difference:

women having children
66% 25% 6%
couples having children
59% 32% 6%
and lesbian couples raising children
50% 34% 11%
living together without marrying
44% 43% 10%
of young children working
41% 22% 22%
not ever having children
29% 52% 20%

The 20-year core attitude trends analysis finds that over the past two decades there has been a slow but steady decline in general “social conservatism” in the U.S. as measured by consolidating the responses to six key questions.  Each of the current four generations in the U.S., the World War II Generation, the Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y, have each been less conservative than their predecessors.

Here are some specific trends over the past 20 years in some key areas:

Traditional Values

Over the past 20 years, the pollsters have asked two key questions related to traditional values generally.  In response to the statement, “I have old-fashioned values about marriage and the family,” 45 percent “completely agreed” in 1987, with the total of those who agreed “completely” or “somewhat” totaling 87 percent.  This number went up to 53 percent who completely agreed in both 1994 and 1999 and has dropped to 41 percent today, just outside the margin of error  (which is about +/- 3% for this survey).  The number this year who agreed completely or agreed somewhat was 76 percent.

In 1987, 34 percent “completely agreed” with the statement, “There are clear guidelines about what is good or evil that apply to everyone.”  The “completely agree” support for this statement peaked in 2000 at 41 percent and now stands at 39 percent.

Same-Sex Marriage

Opposition to same-sex marriage has remained remarkably stable over time, though this question has not been asked over the 20 period.  It stood at 57 percent opposed in 2001, peaked at 63 percent opposed at the end of 2003 just after the Massachusetts court imposed legalized same-sex marriage on that state, and now stands at 55 percent opposed.  Those supporting same-sex marriage over that time ranged from 35 percent in 2001, dipped to 29 percent in 2004, and now stands at 37 percent, within the margin of error over that time period.  Ominously, 56 percent of the youngest cohort, those 18 to 29 years old, in this survey support same-sex marriage today (though some other surveys, including a recent one by the Pew Research Center, show that slight majorities in this age group oppose it, a function of how the question is asked, perhaps).  This result is no doubt largely an indicator that the desensitization process underway in the schools, the media and popular entertainment appears to be working.  


Several indicators on religiosity have also been remarkably stable over the past 20 years.  In 1987, 76 percent of Americans agreed with the statement that “Prayer is an important part of my daily life,” with 78 percent agreeing currently.  This year, 79 percent agreed that “We will all be called before God on Judgment Day to answer for our sins,” compared to 81 percent in 1987.  Only on the statement, “I never doubt the existence of God” was there a change over the past two decades outside the margin of error, with 83 percent agreeing with this statement this year compared to 88 percent agreeing in 1987.  Interestingly, the decline has occurred since 2003.

There are a number of other interesting results from the full analysis available on the Pew Center Web site, but these I have cited allow for some important conclusions.

Certainly, there is still a strong reservoir of support in the U.S. for marriage, the family, family values and conservative values generally.  In fact, in some areas, such as the recognition of the importance of mothers spending more time raising their children, we are seeing an increase in understanding and support.  This base of support sets the U.S. apart from virtually all other industrialized countries and many in the developing world as well.  It is a tribute to the good educational efforts of many pro-family groups and gives them a strong foundation on which to build.

At the same time, it is clear that there is a downward trend in support in some critical areas and with some cohorts, primarily the very youngest.  To halt that trend, and hopefully reverse it will require increased public and media education efforts.  Still, we should be encouraged.  Things could be much worse.

Sharon Slater
Sharon Slater

Newly Posted on Our Web Site

We have posted three new Policy Briefs, which are short summaries of important pro-family policy issues: 

We have also posted the “friend of the court” brief we have filed in the Rhode Island marriage case.


News Items of Interest

Massachusetts Marriage Amendment on Hold, Legislators Targeted by Pro-marriage Activists

Supporters of a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage in Massachusetts will not be working to get a measure on the ballot in 2010, but will target legislators up for election in 2008 who have blocked their efforts to define marriage as being between a man and a woman.  Massachusetts Family Institute president, Kris Mineau, has vowed to work to unseat lawmakers who failed to support a statewide referendum.  Read more here. 

Rhode Island Governor Vetoes Infertility Insurance Bill for Unmarried People

Rhode Island Governor Don Carcieri has vetoed legislation that would require health insurance companies to pay for infertility treatments for unmarried people.  The Governor, who is not in favor of same-sex marriage or civil unions, stated that insurance carriers should not be forced to subsidize out-of-wedlock births.  Read more here. 

Child Pornography Linked to Molestation

A new study by the United States government indicates that 85 percent of men convicted on Internet child pornography charges had also committed acts of sexual abuse against minors.  The study was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.  Experts say that the findings could have enormous implications for public safety and law enforcement.  Read more here.

Teen Pregnancy and Abortion Rates Down in Canada

A recent study in Canada has revealed that teen pregnancy and abortion rates are at their lowest levels in over ten years.  However, sexually transmitted infections are on the rise.  Researchers believe that as young people become more committed in a relationship, they stop using condoms and use oral contraceptives instead.  Read more here.

Impact of No-Fault Divorce Laws

A new study examining the impact of no-fault divorce laws on divorce rates has been released.  Professor Douglas W. Allen, an economics professor at Simon Fraser University and Maggie Gallagher, President of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy claim that no-fault divorce has contributed to the increase in the divorce rates in the United States and other nations.  Read more here. 

“Diversity Training” to be Mandatory in Spanish Schools

The government of Spain has announced that it will require students to receive diversity education.  The curriculum includes instruction in “moral pluralism” the belief that there multiple types of  “moralities” and that those who espouse moral absolutes are “intolerant.”  Read more here. 

Body Parts of Babies Found in India

Thirty bags containing the body parts of hundreds of infants have been found outside a clinic in Orissa, India.  Officials investigating the grisly evidence suspect that the infants were either aborted or killed by infanticide after they were born.  Infanticide, especially of female babies, is common in India because male children are greatly preferred.  Some have estimated that as many as 10 million girls have been victims of infanticide in the last 20 years.  Read more here.

Florida Couple Awarded $21 Million in ‘Wrongful Birth’ Case

A jury awarded $21 million to a couple who brought a lawsuit against a doctor claiming that a severe birth defect in their first child was misdiagnosed.  They subsequently had a second child with a similar defect.  The couple have stated that had they known that their first son had the defect, they would have tested their second child before his birth and terminated the pregnancy if he was also afflicted.  Read more here.

Number of Pro-life Voters on the Rise in the U.S.

The results of a  survey conducted over the last 15 years indicates that an increasing number of younger voters in the U.S. are taking a pro-life position.  A broad cross section of the American electorate was interviewed–over 30,000 people.  The pro-life trend was particularly noted among women in the 18-29-year-old bracket.  Read more here.


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