published Monday, May 16th, 2011

Marriage falling among households


by Andy Johns

Married couples make up fewer than half of the households in Tennessee, Hamilton County and Georgia and barely a third of the households in Chattanooga.

Recently released 2010 census data shows 46 percent of Hamilton County households contain married partners, compared to 50 percent in 2000. Statewide figures for Georgia and Tennessee also slipped below 50 percent for the first time, to 48 and 49 percent, respectively.

Many factors, from life expectancy to attitudes and even the recession, could be leading to the decline, according to demographics expert Doug Bachtel.

“It’s expensive to get married, and as a result people could be actually delaying the ceremony,” said Bachtel, a demographer with the University of Georgia. “That might be a line the guys are using.”

The percentage of married households was higher across the region, with Walker, Catoosa, Whitfield, Marion and Bradley counties all in the 53 to 56 percent range.

But even those counties saw noticeable drops from the 2000 census, when most of their figures were around 60 percent.

Carol Kutchins, who runs The Marriage Consultant on Broad Street, said the figures are “a sign of the times.”

She compared modern society to life in the book and the television series “Little House on the Prairie,” in which groups of people needed traditional family units to survive.

“There’s a big difference between now and then, where I can say, ‘No, I don’t like you,’ and go get an apartment,” she said.

The numbers in Chattanooga, Nashville and other urban areas are even lower than the state figures, which doesn’t surprise Bachtel.

“A lot of people feel like if you are living together with somebody without marriage, you’re living in sin,” he said. “It’s rather easier to live in sin in a city.”

changing attitudes

In the bigger picture, Bachtel believes, age and attitudes may have a lot more to do with the trends than a short-term factor such as a down economy.

He said the population of Georgia in particular skews young, and because of that there are probably more unmarried residents than in states with older populations.

“We’re at that young population; they may not be ready to get married,” he said.

The Census Bureau also accounts for other relationships within the household. The data for Hamilton County shows 29 percent of households are people living alone, 6 percent include relatives who are not children, 5 percent include nonrelatives and 2.9 percent are group quarters. The data does not include a line for same-sex couples because such unions are not officially recognized.

But experts such as Bachtel also have noted the declining marriage rate since the 1960s, which he said is due to changing attitudes.

“A lot of people feel they can live together and just try it out for a while,” he said.

The number of heads of household living with unmarried partners increased in both states and most area counties from around 1.5 percent in 2000 to 2.2 or 2.3 percent in 2010, according to census data.

Kutchins sees those statistics in action frequently.

“I don’t think we’re seeing marriage as the same way we used to,” she said. “People are seeing couplehood in a lot of different ways.”

But Julie Baumgardner, executive director of First Things First in Chattanooga, said that can be dangerous. She cited statistics indicating that couples who live together before marriage are less likely to be happy once they tie the knot.

“There’s no commitment,” she said. “There’s a sliding [into marriage] versus a deciding.”

Baumgardner said statistics can be misleading. A widow who was happily married for 50 years before her husband died would be considered unmarried in the census count, she pointed out.

“There are lots of variables that are involved in that number,” she said. “Clearly, people are still marrying.”

And some of those variables come with dollar signs.

For women on government assistance, marriage actually can hurt their ability to qualify for some programs, Baumgardner said.

Kutchins said people also are paying more attention to the legal and financial sides of marriage, especially in second and third marriages. She has noticed divorcees staying unmarried longer in recent years and has talked with many couples who are cautious about sharing and potentially dividing their finances.

“People have learned that it’s a legal transaction, not just a love transaction,” Kutchins said.

As to what the trend means, experts are unsure.

Kutchins said she sees people continuing down the “road of confusion” and said the culture needs to do a better job of preparing young people for long-term relationships.

“It discourages me, because it tells me there are a lot of people who are discouraged,” she said.

Tom Buchanan, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said the jury is still out.

“There are a lot of debates about the family,” he said. “The thing that it doesn’t equate to is, are there terrible consequences? You can’t make that leap.”

about Andy Johns...

Andy began working at the Times Free Press in July 2008 as a general assignment reporter before focusing on Northwest Georgia and Georgia politics in May of 2009. Before coming to the Times Free Press, Andy worked for the Anniston Star, the Rome News Tribune and the Campus Carrier at Berry College, where he graduated with a communications degree in 2006. He is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Tennessee ...

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timesfreepress said...

What do you think the underlying cause of failing marriages is?

May 16, 2011 at 2:40 a.m.
ceeweed said...

Marriage Equality. For all the lip service being paid to "The Christian Founders" of our country who would have surely opposed Gay marriage, it seems to me that those against Gay marriage SHOULD be preaching to the choir. Marriage between a man and a woman continues to lose its luster. What about "The Sanctity of Holy Matrimony"?

When proposition #8 was put to a vote in California it was decided, by the voters, that Gays should not be allowed to marry. This issue became law on the strength of the black vote. When polled, over 60% of black voters were against Gay marriage. Since over 70% of black children born in America are born out of wedlock, does that mean more blacks are opposed to traditional marriage than they are to Gay marriage? Politicians and preachers of all parties, races, and denominations need to persuade their followers to lead by example. As long as marriage continues to be more and more unpopular it hardly lends any pious credit to those who argue against Gay marriage.

May 16, 2011 at 7:30 a.m.
fairmon said...

The financial and welfare factor has more affect than most realize. There are many instances where one member, usually the female, is receiving significant assistance in the form of food stamps, rent subsidies, untility assistance etc. etc. cohabiting with an employed partner with a good job and income.

Government intervention and complications around second marriages are strong deterrents with some real adverse impact from an earlier marriage, especially if chidren are involved.

As is often the case the governments and legal communities attempt to assist women has actually, in many cases, made things worse for them.

May 16, 2011 at 8:04 a.m.
moon4kat said...

Perhaps marriage has declined because women are enfranchised citizens who have career options. They are no longer forced into marital bondage in order to survive. Instead, they can support themselves and wait for a relationship that treats them as an equal partner. Also, men know how to use a microwave and can feed themselves without having to get married.

May 16, 2011 at 10:04 a.m.
chet123 said...

Marriage vows are a joke....only a minority of married people honor them....marriage should be a contract...with conditions...the original intent of vows was very honorable,sacred and consecrated......married people today have almost no respect for the vows and very little respect for the institution of marriage(both gender man nor woman) ..the only way the institution of marriage can be save is if our society and the church be honest and admit there are serious problems with the priorities in this soceity. too much time away from home...too much sex pushed on soceity...work places are the biggest threats to families....studies have shown increase of infidelities in work places....our soceity discourage a "man" in the house....make it too easy for poor people to divorce(government subsidies) also too many lawyers and egg headed judges

May 16, 2011 at 1 p.m.
lkeithlu said...

I dunno-I've been married 29 years. It takes some work and giving each other room to grow, but it suits me.

However, we both decided that we would only get married if we were willing to work to make it last all our lives. So far so good...

May 16, 2011 at 4:28 p.m.

My fiance and I are getting married in June and I have to say that I'm more than happy to be committing to marriage but we've also been together for 5+yrs and invested into "us" a long time ago from the very beginning. I do believe there are many reasons WHY NOT to get married (finances, unstability, adultry,etc...) but I don't think reasons for marriage (marriage for all- Gay/Straight) aren't promoted enough. What scary is almost every older couple that I've known is almost divorce after like 20yrs of marriage, you don't even see it coming. But I have to say though, thank God I found an amazing man because the pickings out there REALLY REALLY bad!

May 16, 2011 at 6:01 p.m.
chet123 said...

LIBERTARIAN..ITS HARD TO HAVE AN ADULT CONVERSATION WITH YOU...WHAT HAVE BILL CLINTON GOT TO DO WITH AMERICAN LOW VALUE AND LYING??...YOU ARE AN EXAMPLE OF THAT...YOU CANT TELL THE TRUTH...AND YOU CALL YOURSELF A "CHRISTIAN" FOR ITS PEOPLE LIKE YOU THAT DRIVE PEOPLE AWAY FROM CHRISTAINITY....THE MUSLIM ARE MOVING INTO AMERICA..AND GAINING A STRONG HOLD ...THANKS TO EMPTY SOULS LIKE YOU...YOU OVER LOOK ALL YOUR REPUBLICAN HEROS...LIKE SENATOR ENSIGN WHO SLEPT WITH HIS BEST FRIEND WIFE(BEST FRIEND WIFE!!)AND TRIED TO HIDE IT WITH DADDY MONEY..THAT ABOUT FOUR SINS IN ONE ...SO DO ME A FAVOR LEAVE POLITIC OUT OF THIS CONVERSATION....YOU ARE LACKING A SOUL...YOU THE LAST PERSON THAT CAN CAST STONES ...

May 17, 2011 at 8:21 a.m.
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