Family Changes Divide Society

February 22, 2011

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pew-family-trends-feb-2011.JPGThe American public is sharply divided in its judgments about the sweeping changes in the structure of the American family that have unfolded during the last 50 years, according to data from the Pew Research Center. About a third generally accepts the changes, a third is tolerant but skeptical and a third considers them bad for society.

2 in 3 Tolerate Changes to Some Degree

About a third (31%) of survey respondents are Accepters. Anywhere from half to two-thirds of this group say these trends make no difference to society. But of the remainder who express an opinion, more say that most of the trends are good than say they are bad.
A similar share of the public (32%) rejects virtually every trend that the Accepters tolerate or endorse. A majority say five of the seven changes are bad for society; the only trends they generally accept are interracial marriage and fewer women having children.

The third and somewhat larger group (37%) are the Skeptics. While they generally share most of the tolerant views of the Accepters, they also express concern about the impact of these trends on society. On one of the trends, single motherhood, they and the Accepters have stark differences (see below).

Accepters, Skeptics See Little Impact from Most Changes

pew-family-judging-feb-2011.JPGFor the most part, a majority of Accepters and Skeptics think the changes in the US family dynamic covered in the Pew survey have made no difference, with a higher percentage of Accepters giving this answer. For example, 66% of Accepters and 56% of Skeptics think more unmarried couples raising children makes no difference, and 59% of Accepters and 53% of Skeptics think more gay and lesbian couples raising children makes no difference.

However, well less than half (38%) of Skeptics think more mothers working outside the home makes no difference, compared to half (50%) of Accepters.

Rejecters See Negative Impact

In contrast, overwhelming majorities of Rejecters see a negative impact from five of the seven changes, led by the 99-plus% expressing this opinion about more couples living together without getting married (see below). However, as mentioned above, only 24% of Rejecters see more people of different races marrying each other as bad for society, while 43% express that opinion about more women not ever having children.

Single Motherhood Polarizing Issue

pew-single-motherhood-feb-2011.JPGThe one issue that sharply divides Skeptics from Accepters is single motherhood. Ninety-eight percent of Skeptics say more single women having children without a male partner is bad for society, compared to only 2% of Accepters. Three-quarters of Accepters (74%) say it makes no difference.

Hispanics, Non-churchgoers Most Likely Accepters

pew-family-demographics-feb-2011.JPGLooking at demographic trends, the two groups most likely to be Accepters are Hispanics (42%) and those who seldom or never attend church (48%). These groups are also least likely to be Rejecters (17% and 14%, respectively).

Those age 18-29 (46%) and Blacks (45%) are most likely to be Skeptics, while those who attend church once a week or more are least likely (27%). Regular churchgoers are also most likely to be Rejecters (53%), followed by those age 65 and up (47%).

Women are more likely to be Accepters than men (36% compared to 26%), while men are more likely to be both Skeptics (39% to 35%) and Rejecters (34% to 29%).

Gallup: Religion Losing Influence

Seven in 10 Americans say religion is losing its influence on American life, according to results of a recent Gallup poll. This figure has risen 27% from 55% who gave the same view in 2002, and is tied with 2009 for the highest percentage who say religion is losing influence since 1970.

Another 25% said religion is increasing its influence on American life, with 2% saying religion’s influence is staying the same. In 2002, about the same percentage said religion was maintaining a steady influence, but around 50% said its influence was increasing.

About the Data: This finding emerges from an analysis that the Pew Research Center conducted of responses to a survey in which a nationally representative sample of 2,691 adults were asked whether they considered the following seven trends to be good, bad or of no consequence to society: more unmarried couples raising children; more gay and lesbian couples raising children; more single women having children without a male partner to help raise them; more people living together without getting married; more mothers of young children working outside the home; more people of different races marrying each other; and more women not ever having children.


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