The median age when women first marry is at a new high of older than 26, and the corresponding age for men is almost 29, the Pew Research Center said.
By comparison, in 1960, 72 percent of all adults were married in the United States, and the median age for brides was barely 20 and grooms were just a couple of years older, The Washington Post noted Dec. 14.
In 2010, 7.5 million couples were living together without being married, representing a 13 percent increase in just one year. The Post said the economy is largely to blame, with dating couples struggling to support two households but not being willing to commit to marriage.
A sociologist at Johns Hopkins University told The Post that in the 1950s marriage was mandatory but now it's "culturally optional." Just last year Pew found that more than four in 10 Americans under 30 consider marriage old-fashioned.
Yet most young adults today express a desire to marry eventually, once they've had time to establish careers, travel the world and indulge in hobbies.
Matt Statler, a 29-year-old resident of the nation's capital, told The Post he'd like to marry someday, but he's "definitely in no hurry." He wants the freedom to do what he wants for a time without feeling that he should be spending time in a committed relationship.
"It's just easier to date around and not be as emotionally invested in someone when I have other goals in life right now," Statler told The Post.
Another major factor in the declining marriage rate is a generation of youth who have experienced their parents' divorces and fear repeating the mistakes.
The newspaper quoted a 30-year-old woman whose divorced father advised her to wait at least until age 35 to marry. Such young adults, Pew found, believe that living together is a safer first step.
BARNA REFLECTS ON 2011 TRENDS -- Americans are struggling to determine how faith, Christianity and church fit into modern life, The Barna Group said in its reflection on six top trends of 2011.
"Only Billy Graham, the Pope, Barack Obama and Joel Osteen were mentioned by more than 1 out of 50 adults as the most significant Christian leaders," Barna said. "What's more, 41 percent of Americans are unable to identify who they consider to be an influential Christian."
Also among the year's trends:
-- People are living with a redefined American dream that includes less spending, more saving and less charitable giving. A growing number believe the economy will not recover from its current slump.
-- Nearly 85 percent of Christian 18- to 29-year-olds admit they have no idea how the Bible applies to their field or professional interests, Barna found. Young adults who are interested in creative or science-oriented careers often disconnect from their faith or from the church.
-- Technology has become a modern addiction and, while bringing notable good to everyday life, has increased conflict within families. Barna said churches can help families navigate the digital world by helping them reimagine the role of sabbatical living, such as taking meaningful breaks from technology.
-- While most Americans claim to be Christians or at least spiritual people, the spiritual transformation of lives is hard to find. Most Christians "simply do not understand the obstacles they face on the spiritual journey," Barna said, identifying four common barriers: lack of commitment, unwillingness to fully repent, confusing activity for growth and failure to engage in genuine, accountable community.
-- More than ever, young women are preparing to live independently by getting educated and finding a job, Barna said, adding that research shows teenage girls aspire to most of the same careers as teenage boys, including the military, law enforcement, firefighting and government.
"Another surprising fact about the changing views of young women is that only 1 percent of teen girls explicitly identifies 'domestic work' or 'homemaking' as their future occupational choice," Barna said.
BALE'S VISIT TO FORCED ABORTION FOE REBUFFED -- Christian Bale, star of the latest "Batman" movie franchise, was repulsed by authorities Dec. 15 as he sought to visit a leading opponent of China's coercive abortion program.
Bale and a CNN television crew were blocked by the guards at a checkpoint as they sought to walk from their car to the home of Chen Guangcheng in Dongshigu Village in eastern China. The guards -- dressed in olive green military-style overcoats -- pushed Bale and the others back, CNN reported. When Bale pulled out a small camera, the guards hit him as they aimed punches at his camera and tried to drag him away from the others.
"Why can I not visit this free man?" Bale asked repeatedly, according to the report.
The actor and the CNN crew had driven eight hours from Beijing in an effort to see Chen, who has been under house arrest for more than a year. He and his wife reportedly have been tortured and denied medical care during that time. Prior to his home detention, Chen served more than four years in prison on what his supporters describe as trumped-up charges by the government.
Chen, a 40-year-old lawyer who is blind, filed a class-action lawsuit against the city of Linyi on behalf of women who had been forced to have abortions or sterilizations. In the county in which he lives, there were 130,000 coerced abortions and involuntary sterilizations in 2005 alone, according to the ChinaAid human rights organization.
China's population control program -- known as the one-child policy and instituted officially in 1980 -- generally limits couples in urban areas to one child and those in rural areas to two, if the first is a girl. Parents in cities may have second babies if the husband and wife are both only children.
The program has been marked by forced abortion -- even in the final trimester -- and sterilization. Infanticide, especially of females, also has been reported.
After Bale was turned back from visiting Chen, he told CNN, "What I really wanted to do was to meet the man, shake his hand and say what an inspiration he is."
He said on the drive to Chen's village, "This doesn't come naturally to me, this is not what I actually enjoy -- it isn't about me. But this was just a situation that said I can't look the other way.
"I'm not brave doing this. The local people who are standing up to the authorities, who are visiting Chen and his family and getting beat or detained, I want to support them."
According to CNN, Bale learned about Chen while he was in China for the filming of "The Flowers of War," which portrays the brutal 1930s invasion of Nanjing by Japanese troops. He returned to Beijing for the movie's premier and invited the CNN crew to accompany him as he sought to visit Chen. The movie is China's official entry in the Academy Award competition.
Reggie Littlejohn, president of Women's Rights Without Frontiers, described Bale as "a hero. He is starring in the most expensive film ever made in China, which China hopes will win an Academy Award. Nevertheless, he has the courage to stand against official injustice and has greatly raised the visibility of Chen's case."
Women's Rights Without Frontiers works to combat coerced abortion and sexual slavery.
Bale is best known for his role in the "Batman" movie series, which will resume next summer with "The Dark Knight Rises." He won an Academy Award as best supporting actor earlier this year for his role in "The Fighter."
EX-PLANNED PARENTHOOD CLINIC DIRECTOR JOINS AUL -- Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director, joined Americans United for Life Dec. 8 as senior policy adviser.
She also announced Nov. 21 the launch of a ministry to reach out to abortion clinic workers. Its name will be And Then There Were None.
Johnson has become a leading pro-life advocate since resigning in 2009 as director of the Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas. She left the clinic she had worked at for eight years after viewing an abortion by means of a sonogram. At the time, Johnson said she had already become disillusioned with her job, recounting that a Planned Parenthood supervisor had been urging her to find ways to increase profits by performing more abortions.
Johnson's knowledge of Planned Parenthood will help Americans United for Life in its effort to eliminate government funding of the abortion giant, the organization's president said.
"No one understands better than Abby how intertwined abortion policy and government funding have become.... She will be an integral part of our work to expose and defund the abortion industry," Charmaine Yoest said in a written statement.
Planned Parenthood clinics performed more than 332,000 abortions in 2009, making the organization the country's leading abortion provider. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its affiliates received more than $363 million in government grants and contracts from federal, state and local sources in 2008-09.
Johnson and six other former Planned Parenthood employees volunteered Dec. 7 to testify in a congressional investigation into alleged illegal and unethical behavior by the abortion giant.
PA. LAWMAKERS TIGHTEN STANDARDS FOR ABORTION CLINICS -- Both houses of the Pennsylvania legislature have approved a bill that will require abortion clinics in the state to meet the same health and safety standards as other outpatient surgery centers.
Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, is expected to sign the legislation into law.
The Senate voted 32-18 for the proposal Dec. 14, a day after the House of Representatives passed it in a 151-44 roll call, according to the Pennsylvania Independent.
The measure requires abortion clinics to expand the size of operating rooms, install elevators and have driveways and parking lots large enough for ambulances, the Independent reported.
Planned Parenthood and other organizations that support abortion rights oppose the bill, saying it will reduce access to the procedure.
Michael Geer, president of the Pennsylvania Family Institute and a backer of the measure, welcomed the standardization between abortion clinics and other outpatient facilities. He told the Independent, "If that is what the state is requiring for arthroscopic knee surgeries, what is special about abortion that it should be granted allowances for lower standards?"
Lawmakers proposed the legislation after a grand jury report in January revealed a West Philadelphia clinic owned by abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell was marked by deplorable conditions that resulted in its closing and Gosnell's medical license being suspended.
Gosnell and eight others, including his wife, were charged with counts that include first-degree murder, third-degree murder, conspiracy and corruption. Six former employees have pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Gosnell.
On Dec. 14, Gosnell's wife Pearl pleaded guilty to charges that included taking part in an illegal, late-term abortion, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Gosnell, 70, has been charged with eight counts of murder -- one in the death of a woman and seven in the deaths of viable, fully delivered children who were killed. Those babies were only some of hundreds at least six months into gestation who were killed outside the womb after induced delivery at the clinic, the grand jury reported. Gosnell destroyed most of the files, limiting prosecution to only seven cases.
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Erin Roach and Washington bureau chief Tom Strode. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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