A recent study, entitled “Knot Yet,” says economic and cultural forces are responsible for current attitudes toward marriage. Recognizing the trend before it ever occurred, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often mistakenly called the Mormon Church, have long counseled their members to marry and have families.
The study was conducted by researchers for the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, and the Relate Institute. The study is part of “a growing body of research into the impact of delayed marriage.” Nationally, “the median age when people marry has risen to 27 for women and 29 for men.”
“‘Everyone is pushing marriage to their late 20s and early 30s, the Wal-Mart cashier as well as the Wells Fargo executive,’” said W. Bradley Wilcox of the University of Virginia, one of the authors of the study. “‘But the Wells Fargo executive is getting married in her late 20s and having her first child in her early 30s. The Wal-Mart checkout guy is having his first kid in his early 20s, and often marries in his late 20s, often to someone who is not the mother of his first child.’”
“The study found a large educational and class divide. College-educated women typically have their first child two years after marrying. The high school graduates as a group have their first child two years before they marry.”
Joan Williams, director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California at Hastings, said the trend for working-class Americans to delay marriage and have children before they marry “echoes behavior that was noticed in lower-income people several decades ago.” She said that “‘marriage is linked with the white picket fence in your head. When they can’t get the white picket fence, and a certain level of stability, they defer marriage and have higher rates of non-marital births. That in turn fuels more poverty, and takes them further away from the white picket fence.’”
Marriage and family have long been the focus and primary concern of the leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Members of the Church, often called Mormons, believe that the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles were prophetic when they issued “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” in September 1995. In it they declare that
“…marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children. . . . Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.”1
In the October General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ, Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles reminded Latter-day Saints that the influence of Satan, or the adversary, is widespread. “As we know, he is attempting to erode and destroy the very foundation of our society—the family. In clever and carefully camouflaged ways, he is attacking commitment to family life throughout the world.”2
In the same General Conference, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke on the subject of protecting children. He said,
“A Harvard law professor describes the current law and attitude toward marriage and divorce: ‘The [current] American story about marriage, as told in the law and in much popular literature, goes something like this: marriage is a relationship that exists primarily for the fulfillment of the individual spouses. If it ceases to perform this function, no one is to blame and either spouse may terminate it at will. . . . Children hardly appear in the story; at most they are rather shadowy characters in the background.’”3
Oaks also noted:
“Children are also victimized by marriages that do not occur. Few measures of the welfare of our rising generation are more disturbing than the recent report that 41 percent of all births in the United States were to women who were not married. . . . Most of the children born to unmarried mothers—58 percent—were born to couples who were cohabitating. Whatever we may say about these couples’ forgoing marriage, studies show that their children suffer significant comparative disadvantages. For children, the relative stability of marriage matters.”4
Elder D. Todd Christofferson spoke strongly to the male members of the Church in the priesthood session of the same General Conference:
“In the Church and kingdom of God in these latter days, we cannot afford to have boys and men who are drifting. We cannot afford young men who lack self-discipline and live only to be entertained. We cannot afford young adult men who are going nowhere in life, who are not serious about forming families and making a real contribution in this world.”5
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ believe that if they prioritize marriage and family and seek God’s help when obstacles—including financial and educational—arise, they will find ways to obey their Heavenly Father and prophetic counsel to marry, have children, and safeguard both.
This article was written by Paula Hicken, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Paula Hicken was an editor with the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship from 2000 to 2013. She earned her BA degree in English from Brigham Young University. She edited Insights, the Maxwell Institute newsletter, and was the production editor for Faith, Philosophy, Scripture, Hebrew Law in Biblical Times (2nd ed.), Third Nephi: An Incomparable Scripture, and was one of the copy editors for Analysis of the Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon. She also helped manage the Maxwell Institute intellectual property and oversaw rights and permissions. She has published in the Ensign, the Liahona, the LDS Church News, and the FARMS Review.