Factors for a successful marriage – the Pew Survey

Having been married twice, and considering divorce something I only want to go through once, I found this interesting for a number of reasons.

Part of a new study on generational differences in values by the Pew Research Center ranks a list of factors considered “very important” for a successful/happy marriage, and compares the results to a 1990 survey.

Highest to lowest in 2007, with % of responses agreeing in 2007 vs. 1990:

  1. faithfulness (93/95)
  2. happy sexual relationship(70/67)
  3. sharing household chores (62/47)
  4. adequate income (53/46)
  5. good housing (51/42)
  6. shared religious beliefs (49/45)
  7. shared tastes and interests (46/44)
  8. children (41/65)
  9. agreement on politics (12/11)

The study also looks at single parenting and cohabitation, and the changing perception of the main purpose of marriage. The results are being looked at from various directions, as seen in Broadsheet, On Balance, and the Work It, Mom! Blog, just to name a few of the posts I’ve seen on Monday. The last two, not surprisingly, are particularly interested in item #8, and its fall from #3 since the 1990 survey.

Some of my thoughts about this are part of my comment on Nataly’s post about the survey:

[…It seems like in many marriages it ends up being about “the kids” and/or “the family” (which usually means “the kids”) after awhile, and “the couple” ends up getting lost somewhere, having not much in common anymore except the kids. That was definitely one of the things that occurred between my ex-husband and me. (Also from that experience, I can attest to the high importance of faithfulness, but won’t get into that discussion right now.) Also, especially in the early years, kids need so much time and attention that, especially when both parents are working too, there may not be a lot left over for each other. I think that once kids are in the picture, a couple may feel more like a family, but those joys definitely come in a package deal with stress. And I completely agree with (another commenter) about the importance of a strong relationship PRIOR to having kids.] That’s another thing that ultimately worked against First Husband and me, I think – we thought we had that, but we were probably too young to know that for real, and as time changed, so did we. It’s a long way between 18 and 38, and even longer when you’re parents at 20.

I notice that factors related to sex and money both rank a lot higher than kids do in making a marriage work, and that makes sense since those are supposedly the things couples argue about the most.

I’m now remarried with two stepchildren, and I’ve heard that, statistically, the biggest factor in breakups of second marriages is the children from the prior marriages. It does make forging a strong relationship as a couple more challenging when the kids are present from the get-go. But I’m very lucky so far. My stepkids are great people, and my husband and I are both committed to making everything work. Also, his shared-custody arrangement with his ex effectively gives us set amounts of “couple time” and “family time.”

It’s also interesting that such practical considerations as family income, housing, and sharing household chores have gained a lot of importance relative to marital success since the 1990 survey, during a time when two-income families have become much more common and economically necessary.

Perhaps related to children being considered less important to a successful marriage in the survey is a pretty high level of support for divorce when one or both partners are very unhappy in a marriage, coupled with a belief that “getting out” is best for both parents and children in that case. Staying together “for the kids” seems to be going out of favor – and as someone who did go that route for awhile, I’d say it probably should be. But at the same time, the “married-mom-and-dad” family is still considered the best setting for raising children – unless the parents are very unhappy with each other, I guess. Parents still tend to be very happy with their children, though, even if they consider them less central to their marital success (or even their marital status, in a lot of cases, given the increase in the birth rate among unmarried women, a description that applies whether they’re single or cohabitating).

Raising kids is enough of a challenge as part of a married couple, and it’s one I’m glad I didn’t have to face in another setting…my “single parent” years didn’t start until my son was in college and halfway to being on his own. But, especially from my current perspective as part of a couple who won’t have children of their own together, I definitely wouldn’t consider them one of the most important factors in making a successful marriage…and I think all the things ranked ahead of them in the survey are ranked there appropriately.

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  • Great post – thank you Florinda! I found you because you posted on BlogHer.

    As someone who was divorced for years and then became part of a Brady Bunch family, I often cannot bear this kinds of surveys. Indeed, I was avoiding reading this one until I saw your post. But now that I’ve read your write-up, I’ll definitely check it out after BlogHer ’07. I particularly noticed this paragraph you wrote:

    “It’s also interesting that such practical considerations as family income, housing, and sharing household chores have gained a lot of importance relative to marital success since the 1990 survey, during a time when two-income families have become much more common and economically necessary.”

    Amen. If the survey captured that then it may be a cut above.

    Thanks again!

  • Lisa – I’m glad you found this, and thanks for the great feedback! It’s worth going to the Pew site and reading the survey info there; I was actually pretty impressed with what it covered.