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Family Life is Good for You
Marriage and the family continue to weaken in a number of countries. In Canada, close to 1.2 million couples were living in a common-law relationship in 2001, up 20% from 1995, the Globe and Mail newspaper reported July 11, 2002. By contrast, the number of married couples increased just 3%, to 6.4 million from 6.2 million, over the same period.
The figures come from Statistics: Canada's General Social Survey, which collected information on relationship ties, marital splits and new unions.
In 2001, almost 90% of Canadian men and women aged 50 to 69 had started their conjugal life through marriage. But among men and women aged 30 to 39, the study found that fully 40% were expected to choose a common-law relationship as their first union. For women aged 20 to 29, the percentage is estimated to reach 53%.
The appeal of marriage has dropped most significantly in traditionally Catholic Quebec. There, only 26% of women aged 30 to 39 are expected to choose marriage to start their conjugal lives. One-third of women in Quebec had married their common-law partner at the time of the survey, compared with 59% of women in the other provinces.
The Canadian situation mirrors England's situation. On Nov. 26, 2001, the Telegraph revealed that government statistics show that the number of cohabiting couples in England and Wales has reached more than 1.5 million, with four in 10 children now born outside marriage, compared with one in 10 in the 1970s. The number of couples living together is expected to double over the next 20 years.
Ireland too has seen big changes in family structures, the Irish Independent observed May 20, 2002. In 1994, one in every four children was born outside marriage. Now, more than one in every three children is born to single mothers and the rate of first births to unmarried mothers is increasing at 20 times the rate of first births to married women.
The Irish Independent cited a study titled "Family Formation in Ireland" by Helen Russell and Tony Fahey that looked at cases of non-marital births and followed them up five years later. They found that only half the children born outside marriage between 1993-1997 were in a two-parent situation by 1997.
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And in continental Europe, more children are being born out of wedlock. The trend is more notable in Northern Europe, though changes are taking place everywhere, the New York Times reported March 24.
In Norway, 49% of all the births in 1999 were to unwed parents. In Iceland, the figure was 62%. France came in at 41%, in 1998, the last year for which figures were available. In Italy, comparatively few children are born to unwed parents -- 9% in 1998. But even there, the old rules are breaking down and many couples are living together before marriage, reported the Times.
In the United States the median age for marriage among men is now 27, the Washington Times reported June 26. The article quoted researchers Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and David Popenoe, of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, who had just published their 2002 State of Our Unions report, titled, "Why Men Won't Commit: Exploring Young Men's Attitudes About Sex, Dating and Marriage." The report is based on interviews with 60 single men, 25 to 33, who live in four parts of the country. They found that since young men are able to indulge in a sexually active single life -- often with a live-in girlfriend -- they "are in no hurry" to marry.
Nevertheless, men tend to fare better if married: A 20-year study of 20,000 men carried out at the University of Warwick has found that those with wives live an average of three years longer than single men, and earn an extra £3,000 ($4,700) a year, the London Times reported Jan. 29. Researchers think that the differences between married and single men is partly owing to the healthier lifestyle that marriage encourages, and also to a desire to impress their partners and feather their nests. Married men drank less alcohol and ate less fatty food. Couples were also more likely to have lower stress levels as they shared worries and watched for signs of illness in each other.
Those findings were supported by a study published a few weeks later, by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the State University of New York-Oswego. The U.S. researchers studied data from 12,366 patients who participated in the seven-year Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial, according to a Reuters report Feb. 10.
Women also benefit from marriage, a recent Heritage Foundation report showed. The report concludes that domestic abuse in the United States is twice as high among women who have never married than among those who have, the Washington Times reported April 15. Moreover, children of divorced or never-married mothers are six to 30 times more likely to suffer from serious abuse than youngsters raised by both biological parents who are married.
The report's findings are based on an analysis of the 1999 results of the National Crime Victimization Survey, which the U.S. Justice Department has conducted since 1973.
And a new study shows that even those who remain in an unhappy marriage end up being happier than those couples who divorce. According to a July 12 report in the Canadian daily National Post, about half of the divorcees studied were happy five years later, while two-thirds of those who stayed put found happiness over the same period. The study also showed that divorce did not enhance self-esteem or alleviate depression. The team of researchers, led by University of Chicago sociologist Linda Waite, analyzed data on 5,232 married adults interviewed for the National Survey of Families and Households.
Yes, it would seem that family life is the good life!