Jeff Jacoby

Actually, Census data show that even *with* the 15- to 19-year-olds, a majority of American females -- 51 percent -- are "now married." So how does the Times reach a contrary conclusion? By excluding from the category of women with husbands the "relatively small number of cases" -- in fact, it's more than 2 million -- in which "husbands are working out of town, are in the military, or are institutionalized." That startling Page 1 headline is true, in other words, only if the wives of US troops at war are deemed not to have husbands.

Marriage in America is undoubtedly less robust than it was 50 years ago. But it is not yet a candidate for the endangered-species list, let alone the ash heap. The Census Bureau reported last spring that by the time they are 30 to 34, a large majority of American men and women -- 72 percent -- have been married. Among Americans 65 and older, fully 96 percent have been married. Yes, the divorce rate is high -- 17.7 per 1,000 marriages -- and many couples live together without getting married. But marriage remains a key institution in American life.

Marriage advocates often grumble that everything is getting worse, writes scholar David Blankenhorn in his forthcoming book, *The Future of Marriage,* but it's time to acknowledge that some things are getting better: Divorce rates are declining modestly. Teen pregnancy rates are dramatically lower. Rates of reported marital happiness, after a long slide, appear to be rising. And a substantial majority of American children, 67 percent, are being raised by married parents.

By even wider margins, young Americans look forward to being married. The University of Michigan’s annual “Monitoring the Future” survey finds that 70 percent of 12th-grade boys and 82 percent of 12th-grade girls describe having a good marriage and family life as "extremely important" to them. Even higher percentages say that they expect to marry.

The '60s, the sexual revolution, no-fault divorce, the rise of single motherhood -- there is no question that marriage has been through the wringer. Americans have good reason to be, as Blankenhorn writes, “in the midst of what might be called a marriage moment -- a time of unusual, perhaps unprecedented, national preoccupation with the status and future of marriage.” Yet for all the buffeting our most important social institution has taken, it remains a social ideal: Boys and girls still aspire to become husbands and wives.

Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby is an Op-Ed writer for the Boston Globe, a radio political commentator, and a contributing columnist for