Nineteen Sixty-four is a research blog for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University edited by Mark M. Gray. CARA is a non-profit research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church. Founded in 1964, CARA has three major dimensions to its mission: to increase the Catholic Church's self understanding; to serve the applied research needs of Church decision-makers; and to advance scholarly research on religion, particularly Catholicism. Follow CARA on Twitter at: caracatholic.


You are cordially invited… Young Adult Catholics and Marriage

With the recent approval of the Bishop’s Pastoral Letter on Marriage, “Marriage:  Life and Love in the Divine Plan,” attention is again being shifted to the current state of affairs in Catholic marriage.  The document calls for, among other things, marriage ministry that “accompanies and assists people at all stages of their journey: from the early years when young people begin to learn about committed relationships to the later years of married life, and even beyond them to grieving the loss of a spouse.”  But, what is the current young adult Catholic’s knowledge and attitude about marriage?

In spring of 2007, CARA conducted a poll for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to learn more about Catholics’:
  • General familiarity and specific knowledge about Catholic teaching on marriage
  • Consistency of respondents’ own views with various statements about marriage
  • View of the acceptability of divorce, both generally and in specific circumstances
  • General attitudes about marriage and divorce and influences on these attitudes
Using this poll, differences of attitudes and behaviors about marriage can be seen by respondents’ generation.  Interestingly, even though these generations are still coming of age, there significant differences between the Post-Vatican II Generation (born between 1961 and 1981, and more commonly called ‘Generation X’) and the Millennial Generation (born after 1981).

The youngest generation is more likely than their Post-Vatican II counterparts to say that marriage as a lifelong commitment and marriage as a calling from God are “very consistent” with their views.  Also – while 21% (1 in five) Post-Vatican II agree “somewhat or strongly” that “marriage is not necessary if a couple decides to have children,” only 12% (one in ten) Millennials agree “somewhat or strongly.”    

Interestingly, Millennials are more likely to say that marriage is “whatever two people want it to be” – 69% of Millennials “somewhat” or “strongly” agree, while 53% of Post Vatican-II “somewhat” or “strongly” agree.  These data suggest that Millennials understand marriage differently than the Post-Vatican II Generation.

The Post-Vatican II Generation and Millennial Generation even report looking for different attributes in a spouse.  Millennials are more likely than Post-Vatican II respondents to want a spouse as a soul-mate, to report being “very likely” to get married at some point, and to want to be married in the Catholic Church.  But – Millennials and Post-Vatican II are about as likely to say that it is “somewhat” or “very” important that their spouse be Catholic.  While 30% of single, never married Post-Vatican II respondents say it is “somewhat” or “very” important for their spouse to be Catholic, 31% of Millennials responded the same way.

But, what about divorce?  In their pastoral letter, the Bishops of the United States are particularly concerned about the divorce rate, saying, “…the incidence of divorce remains high. The social sanctions and legal barriers to ending one‘s marriage have all but disappeared, and the negative effects of divorce on children, families, and the community have become more apparent in recent decades.”  Millennial respondents are more likely than Post-Vatican II respondents to agree “somewhat” or “strongly” that couples don’t take marriage seriously enough when divorce is easily available.  They are only slightly more likely to agree that divorce because of financial trouble and because of falling out of love is not acceptable.

These differences may be a result of the spike in divorces during the Post-Vatican II Generation’s formative years.  When currently single, never married respondents who say that they are unlikely to be married are asked why, almost one in five Post-Vatican II respondents (19%) say it is because they witnessed a parent, other family member, or close friend in a troubled marriage and it has made them hesitant to marry (compared to less than one in ten Millennials, 7%).

It should be noted, however, that two in five Millennial respondents (43%) “somewhat” or “very much” believe that living with a partner before marriage decreases the risk of divorce (compared to 31% of Post-Vatican II).  On the subject of cohabitation, the Bishops find state that “Clearly, there is no substitute for the binding lifelong commitment of marriage, and by definition, there is certainly no way to ‘try it out.’”  They go on to argue that “at the heart of cohabitation lies a reluctance or refusal to make a public, permanent commitment. Young people need to develop the virtue required for sustaining such a lofty commitment.”

--By, Melissa A. Cidade, Director of CARA's Pastoral Assistance Surveys and Services (PASS)

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