Mississippi Marriage Survey
WITH THIS RING:
A Survey of Marriage in Mississippi
A telephone survey of 401 Mississippi residents age 18 and older conducted in 2004 that asked questions about attitudes toward marriage, aspirations for marriage, and past experiences with marriage yielded the following findings:
- A large percentage of the respondents to the survey expressed pro-marriage attitudes and a small minority expressed attitudes that could reasonably be considered “anti-marriage.” For instance, most of the respondents said that marriage should be a lifelong commitment (92 percent) and that fathers are just as important as mothers for the proper development of children (97 percent). A substantial majority disagreed with such statements as “Marriage is an old-fashioned, outmoded institution” (86 percent) and “Either spouse should be allowed to terminate a marriage at any time for any reason” (78 percent)–the latter being rejection of unilateral no-fault divorce.
- Although 42 percent of the respondents were unmarried, 87 percent (98 percent of those age 50 and older) were or had been married. Eighty-five percent of the never-married persons said they wanted eventually to marry, and a minuscule two percent of all respondents had never married and did not aspire to marry.
- The quality of intact marriages in the state seems to be high, in that 65 percent of the married respondents said their marriages were “very happy,” and 91 percent said they were either “completely” or “very” satisfied with their marriages. A surprising 93 percent said they would marry the same person if they had it to do over again. Sixty-eight percent of the respondents agreed that “Most married persons I know have happy, healthy marriages.”
- However, the respondents’ support for lifelong marriage was not nearly as strong as it could have been, because many of the respondents who agreed with the pro-marriage statements failed to “strongly agree,” and many who disagreed with the anti-marriage statements failed to “strongly disagree.” Furthermore, several sentiments that some observers consider a threat to marriage, though they are not clearly “antimarriage,” were frequently expressed in the survey. These include approval of cohabitation as a means of testing compatibility for marriage (26 percent) and rejection of such statements as “In the absence of violence and extreme conflict, parents who have an unsatisfactory marriage should stay together until their children are grown” (54 percent) and “It should be harder for parents of children under age 18 to get a divorce than it is for couples who do not have children”(50 percent).
- Thirty-six percent of the ever-married respondents had divorced, and of those, 32 percent had divorced more than once. Of the nonwidowed respondents who married 20 or more years before the survey was taken, only 36 percent were still in a first marriage they said was “very happy.” It is apparent, therefore, that the average quality of intact marriages is high only because marriages that become poor tend to quickly end in divorce–hardly a positive indicator of the health of the institution of marriage in the state.
- There is tentative evidence in the findings of the survey that many people in Mississippi are receptive to governmental involvement in the promotion of healthy marriages. More than half of the survey respondents would require couples considering marriage to have pre-marital counseling, and 54 percent of the married persons and 76 percent of those “on the market” for a spouse said they would attend free marital or pre-marital education classes (presumably offered at public expense).
- The most promising approaches to improving the health of marriage in Mississippi are primarily educational and include disseminating information about the costs of marital failure as well as the promotion of pre-marital and marital education. Making divorces harder to get in order to prevent hasty and ill-considered decisions to divorce may also help, but the effectiveness of such an approach has not been proven.
- When ever-divorced persons were asked which of a list of twelve common reasons for divorce were major reasons for their divorce (first divorce if divorced more than once), “lack of commitment by one or both persons to make it work” was chosen as one of the major reasons by 79 percent of the respondents and was, by a large margin, the most frequently chosen reason. This finding, along with the fact that 68 percent of the ever-divorced persons said they wished their exspouse had worked harder to save the marriage and 33 percent said they wished they, themselves, had worked harder, indicates that lack of determination to resolve marital problems accounts for a great deal of the marital failure in Mississippi.
- Other commonly given major reasons for divorce are “infidelity/extramarital affairs” (65 percent), “too much conflict and arguing” (57 percent), “getting married too young” (55 percent), “unrealistic expectations of marriage by one or both spouses” (48 percent), “little or no helpful pre-marital preparation” (46 percent), and “lack of equality in the relationship” (42 percent). Most of these can be addressed by pre-marital and marital education and counseling.
- The risk factors for marital failure of having little or no religiosity and living with spouse before marriage are unusually rare in Mississippi, but the risk factors of young marriage and lack of premarital counseling are unusually common.
ABOUT THE SURVEY:
The survey for this report was designed to be representative of the resident population of Mississippi age 18 and older and was conducted by the Office of Survey Research at the University of Texas at Austin in the Summer of 2004. The sample of phone numbers for the survey was provided by Survey Sampling, Inc., the leading firm for providing samples for telephone surveys. Respondents were selected within households by taking the adult with the most recent birthday. The response rate was 88 percent according to the most commonly used method of calculating response rates for telephone surveys (number of interviews/number of interviews + refusals by intended respondents), and there were 401 completed interviews. The questionnaire was designed by Norval Glenn in consultation with advisors at the National Fatherhood Initiative. Many of the questions were taken from other surveys, including especially the 2001 Baseline Statewide Survey on Marriage and Divorce conducted by the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative.