Faith and Family in America

Poll: Americans Idealize Traditional Family,
Even as Nontraditional Families Are More Accepted

To Most Americans, “Moral Values” Means Personal Honesty and Responsibility

In a recent poll on religion and the family conducted for RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research Inc., almost three quarters of all Americans agree that “God’s plan for marriage is one man, one woman, for life.” A strong majority of Americans (71%) idealize the traditional family even as divorce, cohabitation, and nontraditional family situations are becoming more accepted across religious groups. Only 22% of Americans think that divorce is a sin and almost half (49%) say that cohabitation is acceptable.

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Summary (PDF, 899 KB)

Questionnaire (PDF, 331 KB)

Methodology (PDF, 44 KB)

Demographics (PDF, 85 KB)

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According to the survey, the growing acceptance of divorce is also occurring among religious conservatives. Only 34% of evangelical Christians and 30% of traditional Catholics say that divorce is a sin.

On the question of “moral values,” the survey found that most American families place a higher priority on personal values than on divisive social issues. In the 2004 national election exit poll, about one fifth of voters said moral values mattered most in deciding how to vote for president. In the RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY survey, roughly the same proportion — 18% — named moral values as the concern that worries them the most. But when asked what “moral values” means to them, the largest number of respondents — 36% — said personal values such as honesty and responsibility. Only 10% of respondents said “moral values” means opinions on a social issue, such as abortion or gay marriage. One quarter said “family values,” such as protecting children.

The survey also compared the religious commitments and practices of traditional and nontraditional families. For example, 50% of traditional parents say they attend religious services once a week or more, but only 36% of nontraditional parents say the same. On the other hand, 49% of both traditional and nontraditional families say they read religious scriptures every week; 45% of traditional families and 42% of nontraditional families say they have devotions with their families every week.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there has been enormous growth in the number of nontraditional families over the past 40 years in America. In 1970, traditional families (married couples with their own children) made up 40% of American households. By 2000, they comprised only 24%. From 1960 to 2000, the number of unmarried couples living together increased tenfold; about 10 million people (8% of U.S. coupled households) are cohabiting with a partner of the opposite sex.

Other highlights from the RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY poll include:

  • 80% of Americans agree it is better for children if their parents are married, but 55% also agree that “love is what makes a family”;
  • 49% of Americans agree that married people are happier than unmarried people;
  • 97% of Americans in traditional families and 88% in nontraditional families say they are satisfied with their family life;
  • 49% of nontraditional families and 37% of traditional families say they worry a lot about their children learning the right values;
  • 29% of nontraditional families and 25% of traditional families say they worry a lot about their children maintaining the religious faith they were brought up in;
  • 42% of evangelical Protestants agree that a family suffers if the woman has a full-time job, yet nearly half (48%) of evangelicals in traditional families have two adults who work full time versus 40% of all traditional parents;
  • 64% of Americans agree that it is sometimes necessary to discipline a child with a good hard spanking;
  • 79% of evangelicals and 70% of traditional Catholics say the law should define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, compared to 53% of mainline Protestants and 35% of liberal Catholics;
  • 77% of Americans say sex education classes should provide information about condoms, contraception, and how to make responsible decisions about sex; 18% say abstinence is best and sex ed classes should not provide information about contraception;
  • 82% of Americans say the government should not be involved in programs that encourage marriage.

The nationwide survey of 1,130 adults was conducted July 25-August 7, 2005 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3%.

RELATED LINKS:

Religion and Family Project

Family Research Council

The Future of Children

Religion, Culture and Family Project

National Marriage Project

National Center for Children and Families

Marriage Savers

Kyria: Christian Parenting

Interfaith Families Project of Greater Washington

Institute for American Values

Institute for American Values: The Consequences of Marriage for African Americans

Marriage in America: A Report to the Nation

National Council on Family Relations

Council on Contemporary Families

U.S. Census Bureau: Families and Living Arrangements

African American Family Life Education Program

“Family Values in a Historical Perspective” by Lawrence Stone, 1994 (PDF)

U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services: Fatherhood Initiative

On Being: Marriage, Family and Divorce

USA TODAY: “Cohabitation is replacing dating,” July 17, 2005

The Atlantic: “Divorce and the Family in America” by Christopher Lasch, November 1996

Minneapolis Star Tribune: “A gender gap for the devout” by H.J. Cummins, July 28, 2005

Washington Post: “For Better, For Worse” by Stephanie Coontz, May 1, 2005

Washington Post: “Unmarried because they value marriage” by Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas, May 1, 2005

Indianapolis Star: “Muslim family values” by Robert King, September 10, 2005

Dallas Morning News: “Dumbfounded by divorce” by Christine Wicker, June 17, 2000

Washington Post: “Marriage fund for poor proposed” by Spencer Hsu, July 22, 2005

NPR: “Government’s new role could be marriage broker” by Rachel Jones, July 30 2005

Washington Times: “More homes in U.S. go solo” by Cheryl Weitzstein, August 17, 2005

Washington Post: “Poverty and the Father Factor” by William Raspberry, August 1, 2005

The Economist: Millennium Issue: The Family, December 23, 1999

Emory University Center for the Study of Law and Religion: Sex, Marriage and Family and Religions of the Book

Focus on the Family

Indiana Family Institute

American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on the Family

Alternatives to Marriage Project

“Study of Interfaith Kids Upends Ideas of Identity” by Jennifer Siegel, July 8, 2005

Interfaith Community

Search Institute: Faith Communities

To Lead a Jewish Life: Education for Living

The Negro Family: The Case for National Action (1965)

University of South Carolina: Institute for Families in Society

Boston Globe: “One man’s fantasy” by Adrian Walker, July 25, 2005

Washington Post: “Why Our Black Families Are Failing” by William Raspberry, July 25, 2005

Washington Post: “Poor Marriages, Poor Health” by William Raspberry, October 24, 2005

NPR: “Out-of-Wedlock Births in Black America” by Clarence Page, September 27, 2005

African American Healthy Marriage Initiative

Shiloh Family Life Center Foundation

Smart Marriages

Healthy Marriage Initiative

The Associated Press: “Kansas Senator Leads Push Vs. Gay Marriage” by Sam Hananel, November 10, 2005

Frontline: Let’s Get Married

Presbyterian Church USA: Transforming Families

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