In their landmark book, The Fourth Turning, Strauss and Howe note that one of the signals of a fourth turning is the loss of faith in institutions. And we’ve certainly seen that in Gallup’s annual poll:
While Gallup’s focus is on institutions like banks or the media, there are other institutions, social institutions like marriage, that are facing a similar decline in influence. As Pew’s 2014 Social Trends survey points out:
Recent survey data from the Pew Research Center finds a public that is deeply divided over the role marriage plays in society. Survey respondents were asked which of the following statements came closer to their own views: Society is better off if people make marriage and having children a priority, or society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children. Some 46% of adults chose the first statement, while 50% chose the second.4
Opinions on this issue differ sharply by age—with young adults much more likely than older adults to say society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children. Fully two-thirds of those ages 18 to 29 (67%) express this viewpoint, as do 53% of those ages 30 to 49. Among those ages 50 and older, most (55%) say society is better off if people make it a priority to get married and have children.
What strikes me is that two-thirds of people between 18-29 – the primary ages for settling down and starting a family – believe that society is fine if marriage and children are not a priority.
There are lots of reasons for that, including cultural, financial (not earning a living wage capable of taking care of a family), and even legal (the lopsided divorce court system). But the bottom line is that one of the foundations of a solid society – marriage – is in decline and no longer considered important by the majority of people at the optimal age to start a family. A very scary situation to be sure.