Till death do us part — or not: A source guide on marriage

While debates over gay marriage dominate the headlines, the iconic American family, composed of a husband, wife and children, is undergoing a profound transformation. For the first time, fewer than half of American households are headed by married couples. Yet today couples remain married longer, are more loyal and are less likely to divorce.

According to a 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center, called “The Decline of Marriage And Rise of New Families,” done with TIME magazine and complemented by an analysis of census data, the American ideal of “family” now includes married couples with no children, single parents with children, unmarried couples with children and gay or lesbian couples with children. The survey found that most adults say their families are the most important thing in their lives. They say they are “very satisfied” with their family lives, and the family they live with now is as close or closer than the family they grew up with. Meanwhile, 38 percent of couples who were considering divorce or separation before the recession are now reconsidering, according to a survey by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. Twenty-nine percent said the recession caused them to deepen their commitment.

Marriage occupies a central space at the intersection of religious and public life – a sacred institution that is seen as a foundation stone of society, not to mention a talking point for politicians and a source of national gossip when public figures break their vows.

This edition of ReligionLink provides a guide to marriage trends.


  • “Married Couples Are No Longer a Majority, Census Finds”

    Read a May 26, 2011, New York Times article on new census data, analyzed by the Brookings Institution, showing that married couples represented 48 percent of American households in 2010. A fifth are traditional families, down from a quarter a decade ago and 43 percent in 1950.

  • “Have we found the secret to a long-lasting marriage? How U.S. census shows more couples are staying together”

    Read a May 19, 2011, Daily Mail article on census data showing that couples remain married longer and are more loyal.

  • “Survey: Many Married Couples Stay Together in Recession”

    Read a Feb. 7, 2011, Christian Post article on a survey by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia showing that couples who were considering separation or divorce before the recession are reconsidering now. Thirty-eight percent of couples who were considering divorce or separation before the recession now are reconsidering. Twenty-nine percent said the recession pressured their marriages, but the same percentage said the recession caused them to deepen their commitment.

  • “The Decline of Marriage And Rise of New Families”

    Read a Nov. 18, 2010, Pew Research Center article on a survey done with TIME magazine and complemented by an analysis of census data revealing the decline of the iconic American family and the rise of nontraditional families.

  • “Election 2012 Shows A Social Sea Change On Gay Marriage”

    Read a Nov. 8. 2012, article from Religion News Service, posted by the Huffington Post, about gay marriage in the 2012 elections. Voters in Maine, Maryland, and Washington state voted in favor of measures legalizing gay marriage. The 2012 election brought the total number of states what allow same-sex marriage to nine.

In Congress

  • “Marriage and family status”

    Twenty-seven bills involving marriage and family status were pending in Congress in June 2013. Track the status of these bills at Govtrack.us.






  • JewishEncyclopedia: Marriage.

    JewishEncyclopedia.com provides a summary page on marriage.

  • Judaism 101: Marriage

    Judaism 101 provides a summary page on marriage. The page describes Jewish beliefs on topics including soul mates, a typical wedding and the marital relationship.


Research and resources

National sources


  • American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy

    The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy is the professional association for the field of marriage and family therapy. The organization represents the professional interests of more than 50,000 marriage and family therapists throughout the United States, Canada and abroad.

  • National Conference of State Legislatures

    The National Conference of State Legislatures’ website includes a summary page on marriage.

  • Unmarried Equality

    Unmarried Equality (originally the Alternatives to Marriage Project) is a nonprofit organization that advocates for equality and fairness for unmarried people. The organization, which is based in Brooklyn, N.Y., says it does not oppose marriage but wants validation and support, including nondiscriminatory public policies, for those who are single or in nonmarital relationships.

  • Brookings Institute

    The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, DC.

    The organization has conducted research involving marriage.

    Contact: 202-536-3611.
  • Pew Research Center

    The Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that provides information on trends, attitudes and issues affecting the U.S. and the world. The Center conducts media content analysis, polls, demographic studies and other social science research.

    The center has conducted research involving marriage.

  • Program for Strong African-American Marriages

    The Program for Strong African American Marriages is a five-year intervention study based at the University of Georgia. Prayer is listed as one component of the program, with participants encouraged to pray for their spouses.


  • Barna Group

    The Barna Group is a leading research organization focused on the intersection of faith and culture. It provides primary research, communications tools, printed resources, leadership development for young people, and church facilitation and enhancement in order to “partner with Christian ministries and individuals to be a catalyst in moral and spiritual transformation in the United States.”

  • Ethics and Public Policy Center

    The Ethics and Public Policy Center is a conservative, Washington, D.C.-based think tank and advocacy group. Founded in 1976, the group describes itself as “dedicated to applying the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues of public policy” and advocacy of founding principles such as the rule of law. The EPPC’s president is Ryan T. Anderson.

    The center held a conference in April 2011 examining “a retreat from marriage” during the last 50 years.

  • Focus on the Family

    Focus on the Family is a conservative group that supports churches’ right to campaign. The founder of this organization is James C. Dobson who was also former chairman and president.

    The organization provides help and resources for couples to build healthy marriages that reflect God’s design, and for parents to raise their children according to morals and values grounded in biblical principles.

    Contact: 800-232-6459.
  • National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministries

    The National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers works with the U.S. bishops to implement initiatives on behalf of marriage and family life. It also has contact with many other Catholic associations and groups that promote marriage and family life.

  • National Marriage Week USA

    The National Marriage Week USA website brings together the many activities that organizations throughout the country, including churches and houses of worship, are doing to strengthen marriage during National Marriage Week USA, Feb. 7-14 each year.

  • United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

    The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is an organization that works “to unify, coordinate, encourage, promote and carry on Catholic activities in the United States.”

    In 2004, it began a multiyear, broadly based effort to promote, preserve and protect marriage, understood both as a sacrament and natural institution.

    Contact: 202-541-3200.


  • Amy Burdette

    Amy Burdette, a sociologist at Florida State University, has conducted research into whether infidelity, marijuana use and other behaviors are more or less common among churchgoers.

  • June Carbone

    June Carbone, a law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, is co-author of Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture (2010). She has commented on demographic data involving marriage and families.

  • Andrew J. Cherlin

    Andrew J. Cherlin is a demographer at Johns Hopkins University who has commented on demographic data involving marriage and families.

  • Stephanie Coontz

    Stephanie Coontz teaches history and family studies at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., and is director of research and public education for the Council on Contemporary Families, which she chaired from 2001-04. She is the author of Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage.

  • William Frey

    William Frey, a senior demographer at the Brookings Institution, analyzed the census data showing that for the first time fewer than half of American households are headed by married couples.

    Contact: 202-797-6105.
  • Anne Marie Miller

    Anne Marie Miller (pen name Anne Jackson) grew up as the daughter of a pastor and later experienced serious stress as a church leader herself. She is the author of Mad Church Disease: Overcoming the Burnout Epidemic (2009). Miller is based in Iowa.

  • David Kinnaman

    David Kinnaman is president of the Barna Group, which conducts research on religious life within the United States and around the world.

  • Elizabeth Marquardt

    Elizabeth Marquardt is director of the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values. She is co-editor of When Marriage Disappears: The New Middle America (2011) and author of Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce.

  • Mark Regnerus

    Mark Regnerus is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. He has done research on the influence of religion on adolescent behavior, including the influence of teens’ religiosity on delinquency, whether they stay in school and what they think about sex, for example. Regnerus is co-author, with Jeremy Uecker, of Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate and Think about Marrying (2010).

  • Glenn Stanton

    Glenn Stanton is the director for Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs.

  • Sheila Weber

    Sheila Weber is executive director of National Marriage Week USA, which takes place annually leading up to Valentine’s Day.

  • W. Bradford Wilcox

    W. Bradford Wilcox is director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. He is co-editor of When Marriage Disappears: The New Middle America and author of articles on domestic abuse in outlets such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

  • Bradley Wright

    Bradley Wright, a University of Connecticut sociologist, is the author of Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites … and Other Lies You’ve Been Told (2010). He asserts that infidelity occurs less frequently among churchgoers.

Regional sources

In the Northeast

  • Kecia Ali

    Kecia Ali is a professor of religion at Boston University. She wrote Sexual Ethics and Islam: Feminist Reflections on Qur’an, Hadith and Jurisprudence. Her areas of expertise include progressive Islam and women, gender and Islamic law and Muslim societies. She taught a class in 2003 on marriage and divorce in Islamic law at Harvard University Divinity School.

  • Paul Amato

    Paul Amato is a professor of sociology, demography and family studies at Pennsylvania State University. His research interests include marital quality, the causes and consequences of divorce and subjective well-being over the life course.

  • Robin Dion

    Robin Dion is a research psychologist at Mathematica Policy Research, which has offices in Washington, D.C., and Princeton, N.J. She is the principal investigator for a federally funded research project, Strengthening Families with a Child Born Out-of-Wedlock. Contact Mathematica Policy Research.

    Contact: 609-799-3535.
  • Kathryn Edin

    Kathryn Edin is professor of public policy and management at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. She is co-principal investigator for “Couple Dynamics and Father Involvement,” a qualitative study of 75 low-income married and unmarried couples with young children in Chicago, Milwaukee and New York City.

  • JoAnn Heaney-Hunter

    JoAnn Heaney-Hunter is an associate professor of theology and religious studies at St. John’s University in Jamaica, N.Y. She is particularly knowledgeable about couples’ retreats and about Christian practice in marriage and families. Ask her about how retreats may relieve stress and strengthen religious practice for individuals in families or marriages.

In the South

  • John P. Bartkowski

    John P. Bartkowski is a professor of sociology at Mississippi State University. He has conducted research on religion and families and can speak about how teens’ religiosity affects their involvement in risky behaviors, such as using drugs, and their social relationships, particularly dating patterns. Bartkowski is working on a book about Mormon teen religiosity and another on evangelical parenting. He co-wrote the book Charitable Choices: Religion, Race, and Poverty in the Post-Welfare Era (New York University Press, 2003).

  • Michael Broyde

    Michael Broyde is a professor of law and senior fellow in the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University in Atlanta. He edited the book Marriage, Sex and Family in Judaism.

  • Ronald B. Cox Jr.

    Ronald B. Cox Jr. is director at the Center for Family Resilience at Oklahoma State University, where he is also an assistant professor/family science state specialist.

  • Charles E. Curran

    Charles E. Curran is the Scurlock Professor of Human Values at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. He specializes in moral theology, social ethics and the role of the church as a moral and political actor in society. He is a liberal theologian who was dismissed from Catholic University of America for his teachings on human sexuality after an extended struggle, which included meetings with then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Curran can also comment on the politics of the papacy.

  • Christopher G. Ellison

    Christopher G. Ellison is professor of sociology at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He is the author of several publications involving faith and families and lists marriage as among his areas of expertise. He has also written about religious influences on the environmental movement.

  • David Fournier

    David Fournier is a professor emeritus of marriage and family therapy and family sciences at Oklahoma State University.

  • Christine Johnson

    Christine Johnson is the associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Human Sciences at Oklahoma State University and associate professor in the department of human development and family science. Her research interests include marital relations, adolescent adjustment and research methodologies. In this capacity Johnson has designed and implemented several studies on marriage and romantic relationships.

  • Loren D. Marks

    Loren D. Marks is an associate professor in the School of Human Ecology at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. He has done research on how religion influences marriage and on the link between religion and happy, enduring African-American marriages.

  • Philip Lyndon Reynolds

    Philip Lyndon Reynolds is professor of historical theology and a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University in Atlanta. He is the author of Marriage in the Western Church: The Christianization of Marriage During the Patristic and Early Medieval Periods.

  • Katherine S. Spaht

    Katherine S. Spaht is professor emeritus in the Hebert Law Center at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. She is the author of Why Covenant Marriage May Prove Effective as a Response to the Culture of Divorce. She also is the author of several articles on covenant marriages.

  • Jeremy Uecker

    Jeremy Uecker is an assistant professor of sociology at Baylor University and co-author, with Mark Regnerus, of Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate and Think about Marrying (2010).

  • John Wilson

    John Wilson is professor emeritus of sociology at Duke University in Durham, N.C. He has written articles on religion and marriage and also about religion and leisure. He has taught a class on sport and society.

  • John Witte Jr.

    John Witte Jr. directs the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University, where he also teaches law. He is an expert on legal issues related to marriage, family, Christianity and religious freedom. His books include Church, State and Family: Reconciling Traditional Teachings and Modern Liberties and Religion and the American Constitutional Experiment.

In the Midwest

  • William Doherty

    William Doherty is professor of family social science and education and human development at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis-St. Paul. He has written several articles involving faith and families.

  • Mark Jordan

    Mark Jordan is a professor of Christian thought at Harvard University’s Divinity School and is an expert on issues of homosexuality in Catholic life, especially in the priesthood. He is the author of The Silence of Sodom: Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism, 2002) and Recruiting Young Love: How Christians Talk about Homosexuality (2011). He calls on the church to recognize its many gay Catholics among the leadership and the faithful. He also posits that the culture of Catholicism and gay culture have much in common and that male desire has been a central fact of the priesthood. Contact via Michael Naughton in communications.

  • Michael G. Lawler

    Michael G. Lawler is a professor emeritus in theology at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. His publications include Christian Marriage and Family: Contemporary Theological and Pastoral Perspectives.

  • Paul David Numrich

    Paul David Numrich is a professor of world religions and interreligious relations at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio . He was also the co-director of the Religion, Immigration and Civil Society in Chicago Project. He is co-author of Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs in America. He is the author of “Marriage, Family and Health in Selected World Religions: Different Perspectives in an Increasingly Pluralist America,” published in 2002 in Marriage, Health and the Professions.

  • William P. Roberts

    William P. Roberts is professor of religious studies at the University of Dayton in Ohio. He is the editor of Christian Marriage and Family: Contemporary Theological and Pastoral Perspectives.

  • John Trokan

    John Trokan is an associate professor of religious and pastoral studies at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati. He has written for the journal Christian Marriage and Family.

  • Linda J. Waite

    Linda J. Waite is a professor of urban sociology at the University of Chicago. She is co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier and Better Off Financially.

In the West

  • Jack O. Balswick

    Jack O. Balswick is senior professor of sociology and family development in the School of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif.

  • Judith K. Balswick

    Judith K. Balswick is senior professor of marital and family therapy in the School of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif.

  • Alan J. Hawkins

    Alan J. Hawkins is a professor of family life at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. He earned a doctorate in human development and family studies at Pennsylvania State University in 1990.

  • Pamela Jordan

    Pamela Jordan is an associate professor of family and child nursing at the University of Washington and developer of the Becoming Parents Program. Her research focuses on the transition to parenthood and supporting individuals and couples as they become parents.

  • Howard Markman

    Howard Markman is a professor of psychology and co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver in Colorado. He is internationally known for his work on the prediction and prevention of divorce and the effects of destructive conflict, healthy marriages and relationship distress on mental health and well-being.

  • Glenn W. Olsen

    Glenn W. Olsen is professor emeritus of history at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. He is the editor of Christian Marriage: A Historical Study.

  • Galena K. Rhoades

    Galena K. Rhoades is a senior researcher for the Center for Marital and Family Studies in the psychology department at the University of Denver.

  • Scott Stanley

    Scott Stanley is co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver. He has published widely both research reports as well as writings for couples, with a key focus on commitment theory and research.

  • Lee M. Williams

    Lee M. Williams is professor of marital and family therapy in the School of Leadership and Education Sciences at the University of San Diego. He is the author of several articles on interchurch couples, including “Premarital Counseling With Interchurch Couples: Clinical Implications From Recent Research,” published in 2002 in the Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy.

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