Survey: Men's marital hopes and fears


Wednesday, June 23, 2004 Posted: 6:14 PM EDT (2214 GMT)

NEW YORK (AP) -- While most single young men aspire to marriage, about one-fifth are deeply skeptical of the institution and their prospects of making it work, according to a new national survey which closely links men's marital outlook to their upbringing.

The survey, released Wednesday by the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, found that the men with negative attitudes were far more likely than the rest to have been raised by a divorced parent in a non-churchgoing family.

"Most young men are still 'the marrying kind,"' said a report accompanying the survey. "Moreover, the men who are the best 'marriage bets' are those who are more traditional in their family and religious background."

One critic said such assertions were too broad, fostering illusions about traditional families and overlooking the nuanced attitudes of those raised by divorced parents.

Of the 1,010 men aged 25-34 who were surveyed, 569 were married. Of that group, 81 percent said they got married "because it was the right time to settle down." The desire to have children was a major factor for 35 percent; only 15 percent said they married sooner than they wished because of pressure from their partner.

The survey was part of the annual "State of Our Unions" report authored by Marriage Project co-directors David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead.

Their report avoided making specific recommendations, but Popenoe, in a telephone interview, counseled women seeking husbands to "take into consideration the guy's background -- don't avoid the traditional guys."

"A huge percentage of the men say they'll marry when it's time to settle down, which a lot of women don't quite understand," Popenoe said. "A word of advice to women -- make sure you're getting the guy at just this time."

Survey responses from the married men painted a positive picture of marriage -- 94 percent said they were happier married than single, and 73 percent said their sex life was better.

"For men, even more than for women, marriage is a transformative event," Popenoe and Whitehead wrote. "They work harder and do better financially than men who are not married. They are less likely to hang out in bars, to abuse alcohol or drugs."

According to the survey, married men are roughly twice as likely as unmarried men to go religious services regularly. Three-quarters of the married men said it was important for children to be raised in a religion, compared to 59 percent of unmarried men.

Regarding parenting, married and single men had similar views -- about two-thirds of each group said having children shouldn't be the main purpose of marrying.

Among the single men, those interested in marriage were more likely to have had a father fully involved in their upbringing than those who were skeptical of marriage. The unmarried men raised by two parents also were more likely to be trusting of women than those raised in single-parent homes.

Stephanie Coontz, a history professor at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., and author of several books on families, questioned the utility of such findings.

"There's this endless stream of correlations that seem designed to convince people, 'By golly, we'd all do better if everybody got married and stayed married,"' she said. "That's unrealistic in the modern world."

She said researchers should conduct more detailed surveys, for example, comparing the outlooks of men whose parents divorced amicably with men whose parents endured in an unhappy marriage.

Of the unmarried men who were surveyed, 53 percent said they were not interested in getting married anytime soon. Most agreed that "at this stage in my life I want fun and freedom"; 47 percent said they wouldn't marry until they could afford to own a home.

Twenty-two percent of the unmarried men were depicted as "hardcore marriage avoiders" -- agreeing that marriage, while suitable for some people, is unappealing to them.

Compared to other unmarried men, this subgroup was far more likely to mistrust women's accounts of their past relationships and to worry that marriage would end in divorce.

"It is the presence of these men in the partner market that has led to the popular media stereotype of the commitment-phobic young male on the make but not on the path to marriage," Popenoe and Whitehead wrote.

The report noted that American men are delaying marriage -- on average, marrying for the first time at 27, compared to 23 in 1970.

"Young men face few, if any, negative consequences to delaying marriage," the report said. "They can live with a young woman and gain some of the sexual and domestic benefits of marriage without the long-term commitment of marriage."

The survey was conducted in January and February among English-speaking, heterosexual men. The margin of error for the full sample was 4 percent.