Becoming a parent is one of the top priorities for today’s young adults—far outpacing money, professional success, religious faith, and even a good marriage.[1] So, for today’s women and men of childbearing age, what happens when a baby comes along? At least two portraits of contemporary parenthood can be found in popular culture and the media—from the pages of the Atlantic Monthly and New York magazine, to movies like The Switch and The Back-Up Plan, to television shows like Up All Night.

In the first portrait—depicted in films such as The Switch, starring Jennifer Aniston—marriage and a man are portrayed as optional accessories for late-thirtysomething women seeking to fulfill their dreams of motherhood. Having a baby alone is portrayed as a savvy response to the uncertainties of contemporary romance.

Writing in the Atlantic Monthly in 2005, journalist Lori Gottlieb gave eloquent voice to this vision. By her account, many of today’s members of Single Mothers by Choice, a group whose chapters doubled nationwide in a recent three-year period, are “mostly attractive, smart, successful thirtysomethings [who] subscribe to the ‘somebody isn’t always better than nobody’ theory of marriage.” She continued, “Many, including me, have turned down engagement rings from eligible bachelors even as our biological alarm bells started sounding. As a friend put it, we’re paradoxically ‘desperate but picky.’” But because Gottlieb and her peers do not want to give up on motherhood even when marriage seems remote and unappealing, they elect instead to get “knocked up by half a cubic centimeter of defrosted sperm that had been FedExed in a nitrogen tank.”[2]

Another popular portrait of contemporary childbearing does acknowledge the possibility of marriage, but this vision seems to view parenthood mainly as an obstacle to achieving the soul-mate marriage needed to fulfill the manifold sexual, emotional, financial, and social needs of today’s young adults. Journalist Jennifer Senior explored this theme in the pages of New York magazine in 2010. The piece chronicles the apparent legions of well-educated parents who find themselves with everything they dreamed of—an educated, attractive spouse, fulfilling work, and one or two healthy children—yet nevertheless experience parenting as a burdensome chore and a threat to their marriage.

Senior opens by reflecting on how her emotionally taxing two-year-old son, charming one minute and infuriating the next, leaves her at times “guided by nerves, trawling the cabinets for alcohol.” She continues, “My emotional life looks a lot like this these days. I suspect it does for many parents—a high-amplitude, high-frequency sine curve along which we get the privilege of doing hourly surfs.” In words almost guaranteed to frighten any would-be parents who have not yet taken the plunge, Senior warns that “couples probably pay the dearest price of all” for becoming parents, because “children adversely affect relationships.”[3]

These two visions of parenthood suggest the degree to which marriage and parenthood have become separated in the popular imagination and how parenthood even seems to be an obstacle to a successful marriage. Such portraits beg the questions: Is it emotionally easier to go it alone as a parent in a world in which a good marriage seems more and more unattainable? And, is parenthood an obstacle to a good marriage?

The answers to these questions are important both because parenthood remains a central aspiration in American life—most young Americans still would like to have two or more children—and because a growing share of women and men are raising children outside of marriage, historically an important source of economic, social, and emotional support for parents.

As this report finds, it turns out that parents who are married generally experience more happiness and less depression than parents who are unmarried, an important fact given that 41 percent of children in the United States are born outside of marriage and 34 percent of children are being raised outside of marriage.[4] Further, husbands and wives who have children are significantly more likely to report that their “life has an important purpose,” compared to their childless peers.

But we also found that the experience of parenthood varies by the outcome studied, family size, the relationship status of the parents, and the beliefs of the parents.

At the same time that we found that married parents generally experience more individual happiness and less depression than unmarried parents, and that parents feel a greater sense of purpose than childless couples, we also found that parenthood is typically associated with lower levels of marital happiness. However, a substantial minority of husbands and wives in our study did not experience parenthood as an obstacle to marital happiness. It turns out that many men and women navigate the shoals of parenthood without succumbing to comparatively low levels of marital happiness or high levels of marital conflict.[5] What is their secret? When Baby Makes Three identifies ten aspects of contemporary social life and relationships—from marital generosity to religious faith to shared housework to sexual satisfaction—that seem to boost men and women’s odds of successfully combining marriage and parenthood.

In this year’s State of Our Unions report, we take a look at women and men with and without children to determine how parenthood is linked to the emotional welfare of adults of childbearing age (18–46). We rely on nationally representative data from the General Social Survey and the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth to understand parenthood among today’s young adults. We also paint a more detailed contemporary portrait of the relationship between parenthood and marriage in the United States with results from a new, nationally representative survey of 1,630 married couples: “The Survey of Marital Generosity,” conducted by Knowledge Networks in December 2010 and January 2011 and funded by the Science of Generosity initiative at the University of Notre Dame.

In this report, we seek to answer two specific sets of questions. First: How is parenthood linked to global happiness and depression among Americans of childbearing age? Does the experience of parenthood on these outcomes vary by marital status? Second: How is parenthood linked to the quality and stability of marriage, and the sense that one’s life is meaningful, among husbands and wives of childbearing age? What are the social, cultural, and relational sources of marital success among parents today? And does the marital experience of parenthood vary by family size?

This inquiry is important because children and adults are more likely to flourish when the emotional climate of their family life is positive. It is also important if, as a nation, we seek to strengthen the bonds between marriage and parenthood to find better ways to prepare couples for generally happy and meaningful family lives as they engage in one of our nation’s most fundamental tasks: rearing the next generation.

Parents as Partners

For men and women, parenthood is a transformative event. To date, existing social science research suggests that the arrival of a baby is associated with declines in global happiness and marital satisfaction for many, and increases in depression for some, as women and men adjust to the sacrifices—from loss of sleep to less disposable income—that parenting calls forth, and as they struggle or negotiate through new housework and child rearing routines and enjoy less quality time with one another.[6] Nevertheless, after a period of time, the immediate challenges presented by what has been called the “parental emergency” may fade for many adults, and other factors besides parenthood may be more prominent in shaping their sense of well-being.

In this report, marriage appears to be one such factor among today’s young adults. We found that marriage is more closely linked than parenthood to the emotional welfare of women and men. Figure 1 indicates that married men and women are most likely to report that they are “very happy,” regardless of their parental status. Cohabiting parents fall in the middle of this happiness continuum among young adults. Only for single parents is parenthood associated with less happiness.

Specifically, after adjusting for socioeconomic differences between adults, the marital status gap in global happiness among young adults (18–46) evident in Figure 1 is generally large, whereas the small parenthood gap in global happiness among young adults is neither large nor consistent.[7] Married young adults are between 11 and 28 percentage points more likely to report that they are “very happy” with life, compared to their unmarried peers, but married parents are no less happy with life than their childless peers. In turn, cohabiting parents are happier than childless cohabiting couples, whereas single parents are between 2 and 12 percentage points less likely to report that they are very happy with life, compared to childless singles. These findings suggest that the meaning, social support, financial security, and stability afforded by marriage, and to some extent cohabitation as well, make life more enjoyable for today’s parents, especially in comparison to their single peers who are parents.[8]

FIGURE 1. PREDICTED PROBABILITY OF BEING “VERY HAPPY” WITH LIFE FOR 18–46-YEAR-OLDS, BY MARITAL STATUS AND PARENTHOOD

Figure 1

Note: Model adjusts for age, education, income, and race/ethnicity.

Source: General Social Survey, 2000–2010.

When it comes to depression, parenthood is not linked to depression among adults in their mid-twenties (24–28), so long as parenting is connected to a partnership.[9] Figure 2 indicates that married parents and nonparents, as well as cohabiting parents, are the least likely to report depressive symptoms.[10] Furthermore, new research suggests that spouses who provide their partners with high levels of emotional support are especially likely to protect them from depression.[11] By contrast, single parents are most likely to report depression—indeed, they are at least 13 percentage points more likely to report depression than young marrieds and cohabiting parents.

FIGURE 2. PREDICTED PROBABILITY OF BEING DEPRESSED AMONG 24–28-YEAR-OLDS, BY MARITAL STATUS AND PARENTHOOD

Figure 2

Note: Model adjusts for age, education, income, and race/ethnicity.

Source: 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 2008 Wave.

Thus, when it comes to parents of childbearing age, Figures 1 and 2 indicate that married parents typically have higher levels of emotional well-being than do single parents, and that cohabiting parents do almost as well as married parents. What is most striking about these two figures is that parenthood per se is not associated with lower global happiness or heightened levels of depression, so long as parents are partnered. Evidently, the sense of support, solidarity, and meaning afforded by a co-parenting relationship more than makes up for any challenges associated with parenthood when it comes to global happiness and depression. By contrast, parenting undertaken as a solo enterprise is markedly more difficult than parenting done as a partnership, even after controlling for socioeconomic differences between family types. This message is not being borne out in the recent spate of films, books, and magazine stories about the joys of conceiving and rearing a baby alone.

Some may be surprised to see relatively little distinction so far between outcomes for married and cohabiting parents. We caution that these results should not give the false impression that cohabitation is about as likely as marriage to make parenthood a positive experience over the long-term. Cohabiting relationships are far less stable than married ones. Cohabiting parents are more likely than their married peers to end up as single parents and—as indicated—single parents are the most likely to struggle with depression.

In the United States, cohabiting parents are more than twice as likely as married parents to break up. One recent study estimates that 65 percent of parents who had a child while cohabiting will break up by the time their child turns 12, compared to just 24 percent of parents who had a child while married.[12] While cohabitation and marriage might look similar in the short-term, when considering the emotional well-being of parents in the long-term, cohabiting parents are less likely than married parents to enjoy the perks of parenting as partners over the course of their children’s lives.

Marriage’s power to deliver a long-term emotional boost for parents is especially important because the average young adult in the U.S. thinks that having two or more children is ideal.[13] Despite the fact that voluntary childlessness has enjoyed increased public visibility since the 1970s, most Americans do not see a childless future for themselves as ideal. In fact, in the 2010 General Social Survey, only 2 percent of young adults reported that they thought that having no children was ideal for a family[14] (and only 18 percent of middle-aged women today are childless).[15] Given that the vast majority of Americans still aspire to have children, and will have children, the joys and challenges associated with the transition to parenthood seem best navigated with a spouse.

But what about those young marrieds who are enjoying a child-free life? What does parenthood, if it happens, portend for them? It is true, as psychologists Carolyn and Philip Cowan have observed, that “the transition to parenthood constitutes a period of stressful and sometimes maladaptive change for a significant proportion of new parents”?[16]

In the Survey of Marital Generosity, as Figures 3A and 3B illustrate, married couples with children report less marital happiness than their childless peers. Specifically, mothers and fathers are at least 8 percentage points less likely to be “very happy” in their marriages, compared to their childless peers.

But research also suggests that childless couples and couples with children typically witness declines in marital quality that are similar over the long-term. The primary difference between the two groups is that the dip in marital happiness is more sudden for parents than it is for nonparents.[17] This research suggests that parents experience a significant decline in happiness after the arrival of their first child, whereas nonparents experience a more gradual decline in marital quality. By the time both groups have been married for an average of eight years, their marital quality is not that different.

Moreover, Figures 3A and 3B indicate that parenthood is not associated with high levels of marital conflict or divorce proneness.[18] In fact, for the majority of mothers and fathers, parenthood is not associated with these two negative outcomes.

FIGURE 3A. PREDICTED PROBABILITIES OF MARITAL QUALITY OUTCOMES AMONG MARRIED WOMEN AGED 18–46, BY THE PRESENCE OF CHILDREN

Figure 3A

Note: Model adjusts for age, education, income, and race/ethnicity. Without adjustments, 37 percent of married mothers are “very happy,” compared to 49 percent of their childless peers.

Source: Survey of Marital Generosity, 2010–2011.

FIGURE 3B. PREDICTED PROBABILITIES OF MARITAL QUALITY OUTCOMES AMONG MARRIED MEN AGED 18–46, BY THE PRESENCE OF CHILDREN

Figure 3B

Note: Model adjusts for age, education, income, and race/ethnicity. Without adjustments, 35 percent of married fathers are “very happy,” compared to 53 percent of their childless peers.

Source: Survey of Marital Generosity, 2010–2011.

Finally, married parents clearly outperform their childless peers in one department: meaning (see also the “Family Size, Faith, and the Meaning of Parenthood” sidebar). Both husbands and wives—but wives especially—are more likely to report that “my life has an important purpose” when they have children, rather than are childless (see Figure 4).

FIGURE 4. PREDICTED PROBABILITY OF STRONGLY AGREEING THAT THEIR “LIFE HAS AN IMPORTANT PURPOSE” AMONG MARRIEDS AGED 18–46, BY PARENTHOOD STATUS

Figure 4

Note: Model adjusts for age, education, income, and race/ethnicity.

Source: Survey of Marital Generosity, 2010–2011.

Yes, parents have to put up with the stresses of sleepless nights, toddler temper tantrums, and teenage sullenness, not to mention the time and money spent on their kids, but they also get to enjoy their infant’s first smile, their two-year-old’s bedtime caress, their son’s bar mitzvah, and their daughter’s tournament-winning soccer goal. When suffering, sacrifice, toil, and treasure are expended on some great and valued purpose—including the bearing and rearing of children—difficult tasks can take on a positive meaning. Perhaps it is for this reason that 57 percent of married mothers and 45 percent of married fathers strongly agree that their life has an “important purpose,” compared to 40 percent of childless wives and 35 percent of childless husbands.

So while it is true that parenthood may dampen day-to-day marital happiness, especially when mothers and fathers are dealing with the more challenging features of child rearing, in the short- and long-term, marriage protects parents from the unhappiness and depression more likely to be found among parents going it alone. Further, for many parents, especially mothers, the love given to and received from one’s children can kindle a deeply rewarding sense that life has ultimate meaning and purpose.

The Social, Cultural, and Relational Sources of Marital Success

No couple—indeed, no husband and wife—experiences marriage and parenthood in the same way. One of the striking findings of this report is that even though parenthood can add stress to a marriage, a significant minority of couples can successfully combine marriage and parenthood. Studies suggest that this minority remains “happy in their marriages or even report higher levels of marital happiness after children arrive,” as journalist Tara Parker-Pope notes.[19]

Which factors separate successfully married parents from the rest? Drawing on new data from the Survey of Marital Generosity (2010–2011), we identify ten sets of social, cultural, and relational factors that are associated with higher quality and more stable marriages among married parents (18–46) in America.

Social Factors

I. Education. Much has been made of the growing marriage divide in America between those who hold a college degree and those who do not. In last year’s State of Our Unions report, When Marriage Disappears, we reported that Americans without college degrees were about three times more likely to divorce in the first ten years of marriage, compared to their college-educated peers.[20] In general, marriage patterns have stabilized in recent years among more educated and affluent Americans, but not among Americans without college degrees.

This pattern is also evident among young married parents in the United States. Figure 5 indicates that college-educated parents are less likely to rate their future chances of separation or divorce as high. Specifically, college graduates are about 40 percent less likely to report that they see separation or divorce as a possibility for their future. But education does not predict marital happiness among married parents. Education is most consistently associated with marital stability, rather than marital bliss, among young married parents today.

FIGURE 5. DIVORCE PRONENESS, 18–46-YEAR-OLD MARRIED MOTHERS AND FATHERS, BY EDUCATION

Figure 5

Note: Model adjusts for age, education, income, and race/ethnicity.

Source: Survey of Marital Generosity, 2010–2011.

In light of current research, the stabilizing effect of education on marriage is probably a consequence of the additional economic resources, social skills, and cultural support afforded marriage among college-educated couples.[21] For instance, in September 2011 the unemployment rate varied markedly by educational attainment: 4.2 percent for the college-educated, 8.4 percent for those with some college, 9.7 percent for the high school-educated, and 14.0 percent for the high school dropouts.[22] Thus, this is one domain where college-educated Americans enjoy an advantage regarding marriage, insofar as unemployment undercuts the quality and stability of married life (see below). In sum, young married parents who are college-educated experience stronger marriages than their less-educated peers.

II. Money. Money matters in the marriages of today’s young parents. Indeed, the arrival of a baby often adds new financial stresses to a marriage. But how much money couples have is less important than the level of financial pressure and debt with which they are contending.

The Survey of Marital Generosity indicates that income is not related to marital happiness. However, income is related to the likelihood that married mothers will consider or seek divorce. Wives whose household income is in the top quartile are significantly less likely to report that they are prone to separation or divorce compared to wives whose income is in the first quartile.

Married parents who report above-average levels of financial stress—that is, worrying frequently that their income will “not be enough to meet your family’s expenses and bills”—are consistently more likely to rate their chances of separation or divorce as high, and less likely to describe themselves as “very happy” in their marriages. For instance, Figure 6 indicates that financially stressed spouses, especially wives, are at least 7 percentage points less likely to consider themselves very happy.

FIGURE 6. MARITAL SATISFACTION, 18–46-YEAR-OLD MARRIED MOTHERS AND FATHERS, BY ECONOMIC PRESSURE

Figure 6

Note: Model adjusts for age, education, income, and race/ethnicity.

Source: Survey of Marital Generosity, 2010–2011.

Consumer debt such as credit card debts and installment loans also weighs heavily on the marriages of mothers. The Survey of Marital Generosity finds that consumer debt has a negative impact on the quality and stability of marriage for wives, but not husbands. Figure 7 shows that women in marriages with more than $10,000 in consumer debt are less likely to be happy in their marriages, and more likely to be entertaining thoughts of separation or divorce.

FIGURE 7. MARITAL SATISFACTION AND DIVORCE PRONENESS, 18–46-YEAR-OLD MARRIED MOTHERS, BY CONSUMER DEBT

Figure 7

Note: Model adjusts for age, education, income, and race/ethnicity.

Source: Survey of Marital Generosity, 2010–2011.

In general, it would seem that prudent spending and building a strong nest egg are likely to protect couples from the financial stresses that can erode the quality and stability of married life. Judging by this survey and the larger body of research on marriage and money, money is a particularly important issue for married mothers, who may be concerned not only with their own financial well-being but also with the financial well-being of the children in their nest.[23]

III. Work and Familiy. Today’s young married parents have been shaped by the gender revolution of the last half-century and continue to be affected by the economic fallout associated with the Great Recession. The Survey of Marital Generosity indicates that shared housework and childcare, as well as female overemployment, now play an important role in predicting marital success among married mothers and fathers.

Both mothers and fathers are less divorce prone and happier when they report that housework (e.g., cleaning, cooking, taking out the garbage) and childcare are “shared equally.” Figure 8 indicates that both men and women are at least 9 percentage points more likely to report that they are “very happy” in their marriages when they share housework. Overall, in a striking turn of events, domestic equality has emerged as an important value for today’s married mothers and fathers.[24]

FIGURE 8. MARITAL SATISFACTION, 18–46-YEAR-OLD MARRIED MOTHERS AND FATHERS, BY SHARED HOUSEWORK

Figure 8

Note: Model adjusts for age, education, income, and race/ethnicity.

Source: Survey of Marital Generosity, 2010–2011.

Employment is also important for today’s mothers. Figure 9 indicates that mothers who meet their employment ideals—in terms of work hours[25]—or who work less than they would like to are less prone to divorce.[26] But overemployed wives are more prone to divorce. For wives, working more than their ideal number of hours is also associated with lower levels of marital happiness. Of course, given that many women are working more hours in response to a husband’s job loss or underemployment in the wake of the Great Recession, this very scenario—where wives are working more hours than they would prefer to make up for a husband’s job loss or underemployment—is probably more common for American families today.

FIGURE 9. PREDICTED LEVEL OF DIVORCE PRONENESS, 18–46-YEAR-OLD MARRIED MOTHERS, BY MATCH BETWEEN DESIRED AND ACTUAL WORK HOURS

Figure 9

Note: Model adjusts for age, education, income, and race/ethnicity. Divorce scale varies from 0 to 10.

Source: Survey of Marital Generosity, 2010–2011.

The misfit between employment ideals and employment realities is exacerbated by the fact that married mothers typically prefer to work less than married fathers. Figure 10 shows that married fathers are particularly likely to prefer full-time work (78 percent), whereas married mothers are especially likely to prefer part-time work (58 percent). These divergent ideals mean that the current economic climate, which has proven especially inhospitable to men, is particularly challenging for the large number of couples who wish to have the husband focus more on providing and the mother focus more on juggling part-time work and parenting.

FIGURE 10. WORK PREFERENCES, 18–46-YEAR-OLD MARRIED MOTHERS AND FATHERS

Figure 10

Note: Model is unadjusted.

Source: Survey of Marital Generosity, 2010–2011.

IV. Family and Friends. Marriage draws some of its distinctive meaning and social power in that it begins with a collective ritual, the wedding, which formally draws family and friends into the relationship. It turns out that the influence of such people extends well past the wedding day, as family members and friends serve as sources of support and accountability amidst the joys and challenges of married life.

In most marriages, extended family members play a central role—in ways small and large—in celebrating holidays, confronting unexpected financial problems, and loving and caring for children. Likewise, friends often play a crucial role in lending an ear or a hand when times are tough, sharing formative activities such as a summer beach trip, providing ad hoc childcare, and modeling good or bad marital behavior. Research also suggests that parents who have friends or peer support groups with whom they can talk about the challenges of parenthood do markedly better than parents who go it alone.[27]

To be clear: the influence of family and friends can be for good or ill. Family and friends who are supportive and take marriage seriously tend to be helpful. By contrast, family and friends who needlessly encourage a critical spirit on the part of one spouse, or who give bad example in their own lives, can prove corrosive to the quality and stability of married life. Research suggests, for instance, that one of the better predictors of divorce is having a high number of family and friends who have divorced.[28]

For young married parents in America, having support for their marriage from family and friends turns out to be a good predictor of marital success. The Survey of Marital Generosity scale for social support draws on two items—“my friends are supportive my marriage” and “my family is supportive of my marriage.”[29] Husbands and wives who report that they “always” get support from family and friends are significantly more likely to report that they are “very happy” in their marriages, and that they are not prone to separation or divorce.

Figure 11 shows that husbands and wives with high levels of social support for their marriage are at least 23 percentage points more likely to report that they are very happy, or almost 50 percent more likely to be very happy in their marriages, when family and friends are invested in their marriages. Moreover, a high level of support from family and friends is one of the top five predictors of marital quality and stability for married mothers in this study (see “The Top Five Predictors of Marital Success” sidebar).

FIGURE 11. MARITAL SATISFACTION, 18–46-YEAR-OLD MARRIED MOTHERS AND FATHERS, BY SUPPORT OF FAMILY AND FRIENDS

Figure 11

Note: Model adjusts for age, education, income, and race/ethnicity.

Source: Survey of Marital Generosity, 2010–2011.

These results suggest that married couples with children should seek out friends who take them and their marriage seriously. In turn, family and friends should be reflective about whether they are a force for good or ill in the marriages of those nearest and dearest to them.

Cultural Factors

I. Faith. From the wedding vows exchanged before a pastor, priest, or rabbi to the pastoral support extended to couples in distress, America’s houses of worship have long been an important source of meaning, social support, and normative direction for marriage in America. Religion continues to be relevant to today’s young married parents (see the “Family Size, Faith, and the Meaning of Parenthood” sidebar).

Although Figure 12 indicates that religiosity itself is not uniformly associated with greater marital quality and less divorce proneness, couples who regularly attend a church, synagogue, or mosque together enjoy higher levels of marital success. Shared religious attendance is linked to an increase of more than 9 percentage points that a parent is very happy in marriage, and to a decrease of more than 9 percentage points that a parent is prone to separation or divorce. In all likelihood, the experience of sharing regular religious attendance—that is, of enjoying shared rituals that endow one’s marriage with transcendent significance and the support of a community of family and friends who take one’s marriage seriously—is a solidifying force for marriage in a world in which family life is increasingly fragile.

FIGURE 12. MARITAL SATISFACTION AND DIVORCE PRONENESS, 18–46-YEAR-OLD MARRIED MOTHERS AND FATHERS, BY RELIGIOUS ATTENDANCE

Figure 12

Note: Model adjusts for age, education, income, and race/ethnicity.

Source: Survey of Marital Generosity, 2010–2011.

But even more than religious attendance, the subjective sense that God is present in one’s marriage is a particularly powerful predictor of marital success among young married parents in America today. Figure 13 shows that couples who both agree that “God is at the center of our marriage” are at least 26 percentage points more likely to report that they are “very happy” and at least 6 percentage points less likely to report that they are prone to separation or divorce. In our analysis, this measure of marital spirituality emerges as the most powerful religious predictor of marital success.[30]

Further analyses indicate that one reason that marital spirituality is a powerful predictor of marital success is that couples who believe that God is at the center of their marriage are also more likely to report high levels of commitment and a pattern of generous behavior toward one another, which we will say more about below.[31] In other words, marital spirituality is linked to beliefs and behaviors that strengthen the marriage bond.

In this report, marital spirituality is one of the top five predictors of marital stability for husbands and wives; it is also a top predictor of husbands’ marital happiness. In addition, shared religious attendance is a top predictor of marital stability for husbands (see “The Top Five Predictors of Marital Success” sidebar).

For today’s mothers and fathers, couples who believe that their religious faith extends right into the heart of their marriage are more likely to experience good marriages.

FIGURE 13. MARITAL SATISFACTION AND DIVORCE PRONENESS, 18–46-YEAR-OLD MARRIED MOTHERS AND FATHERS, BY GOD CENTER OF MARRIAGE

Figure 13

Note: Model adjusts for age, education, income, and race/ethnicity.

Source: Survey of Marital Generosity, 2010–2011.

II. Beliefs. The beliefs that couples have about marriage and parenthood matter. They color the ways in which couples make sense of the joys and challenges of family life and may foster higher investments in married life. Research suggests, for instance, that spouses who take a more familistic, or family-centered, view of family life are more emotionally invested in one another and enjoy higher quality marriages.[32] The Survey of Marital Generosity reveals a similar pattern for young married parents.

Not surprisingly, spouses who oppose divorce for couples in unhappy marriages and spouses who believe that “raising children is one of life’s greatest joys” report lower rates of divorce proneness than their peers who hold less familistic views. Likewise, parents who value raising children are also happier in their marriages. Figure 14, which illustrates the association between pronatalistic attitudes (or positive attitudes toward child rearing) and marital happiness among today’s married parents, reveals that mothers and fathers who see parenting as one of “life’s greatest joys” are about twice as likely to report that they are “very happy” in their marriages. We found that a pronatalistic attitude is one of the top five predictors of marital happiness for husbands and wives (see “The Top Five Predictors of Marital Success” sidebar).

Evidently, married parents who hold a more familistic view of life enjoy especially happy marriages.

FIGURE 14. MARITAL SATISFACTION, 18–46-YEAR-OLD MARRIED MOTHERS AND FATHERS, BY POSITIVE FEELINGS ABOUT RAISING CHILDREN

Figure 14

Note: Model adjusts for age, education, income, and race/ethnicity.

Source: Survey of Marital Generosity, 2010–2011.

Relationship Factors

I. Sex. After a baby comes along, most couples see their sexual activity and satisfaction drop, at least for a time.[33] Nevertheless, our findings suggest that it is important for couples to renew the sexual dimension of their relationship as quickly as possible. The Survey of Marital Generosity results are consistent with the notion that the sexual relationship plays a signal role in fostering high-quality and stable marriages for both men and women.

Married fathers and mothers who report above-average levels of sexual satisfaction are significantly less likely to report being prone to divorce and significantly more happy in their marriages. Figure 15 indicates that sexually satisfied wives enjoy a 39-percentage-point premium in the odds of being very happy in their marriages, and that sexually satisfied husbands enjoy a 38-percentage-point premium in marital happiness. These are large effects. Indeed, sexual satisfaction emerges as one of the top five predictors of marital quality and stability for both mothers and fathers in today’s families (see “The Top Five Predictors of Marital Success” sidebar).

FIGURE 15. MARITAL SATISFACTION, 18–46-YEAR-OLD MARRIED MOTHERS AND FATHERS, BY SEXUAL SATISFACTION

Figure 15

Note: Model adjusts for age, education, income, and race/ethnicity.

Source: Survey of Marital Generosity, 2010–2011.

Further, sexual satisfaction is more likely to emerge for women and men in marriages marked by high levels of generosity, commitment, religious faith, and couple-centered quality time. Moreover, women are more likely to report that they are sexually satisfied when they report that they share housework with their husbands. What happens outside of the bedroom seems to matter a great deal in predicting how happy husbands and wives are with what happens in the bedroom.[34]

The natural sciences tell us that sex is associated with the release of “feel good” chemicals such as prolactin, oxytocin, and serotonin, which foster bonding and improve mood among men and women.[35] Not surprisingly, sexual satisfaction also seems to strengthen the bond and mood of wedlock for today’s parents.

II. Generosity. Generosity is an important and sometimes overlooked relational dimension of marriage and family life. Married fathers and mothers who make a regular practice of being generous to one another enjoy markedly higher levels of marital quality and stability.

Generosity is defined here as “the virtue of giving good things to [one’s spouse] freely and abundantly,”[36] and encompasses small acts of service (e.g., making coffee for one’s spouse in the morning), the expression of affection, displays of respect, and a willingness to “forgive him/her for mistakes and failings.”[37] Husbands and wives who score high on the generosity scale—both in terms of giving and receiving in a spirit of generosity—are significantly more likely to report that they are “very happy” in their marriages and less prone to divorce.

Figure 16 reveals that spouses who score above average on the generosity scale are at least 32 percentage points more likely to report that they are very happy in their marriage. Undoubtedly, part of what is happening is that happily married husbands and wives are more inclined to embrace an ethic of generosity in their marriages. Still, it is striking that both the extension and the receipt of generosity in marriage is so highly correlated with marital success.

FIGURE 16. MARITAL SATISFACTION, 18–46-YEAR-OLD MARRIED MOTHERS AND FATHERS, BY DAILY GENEROSITY

Figure 16

Note: Model adjusts for age, education, income, and race/ethnicity.

Source: Survey of Marital Generosity, 2010–2011.

Indeed, the extension of generosity to one’s spouse is one of the top five predictors of marital happiness for both husbands and wives, and one of the top five protectors against divorce proneness for men (see “The Top Five Predictors of Marital Success” sidebar). These findings parallel studies that find that positive attitudes toward sacrificing for one’s partner are associated with marital satisfaction and positive marital dynamics.[38]

Thus, this report and other research suggest that one path to wedded bliss may be found by embracing an ethic of generosity that encompasses a spirit of service, frequent displays of affection, and a willingness to forgive the faults and failings of one’s spouse. This spirit of generosity is all the more important as couples confront the challenges of parenthood together.

The Top Five Indicators Of

In the Survey of Marital Generosity, the following factors are the best predictors of marital happiness and of not being prone to separation or divorce among today’s husbands and wives (aged 18–46) who have children in the home.[1]

Wives

“Very Happy” in Marriage:

  1. Above-average sexual satisfaction
  2. Above-average commitment
  3. Above-average generosity to husband
  4. Above-average attitude toward raising children
  5. Above-average social support

Not Prone to Separation or Divorce:

  1. Above-average commitment
  2. Above-average sexual satisfaction
  3. Both spouses have above-average marital spirituality
    e.g., report God is at the center of their marriage)
  4. Above-average social support
  5. Wife has above-average marital spirituality

Husbands

“Very Happy” in Marriage:

  1. Above-average sexual satisfaction
  2. Above-average commitment
  3. Above-average generosity to wife
  4. Above-average attitude toward raising children
  5. Both spouses have above-average marital spirituality

Not Prone to Separation or Divorce:

  1. Above-average commitment
  2. Above-average sexual satisfaction
  3. Both spouses have above-average marital spirituality
  4. Both spouses attend religious services weekly or more often
  5. Above-average generosity to wife

  1. For further details on the multivariate regression results undergirding this list, see www.stateofourunions.org/2011/e-ppendix.php.

III. Commitment: The Power of “We”

In today’s throwaway society, commitment is a rare trait. Commitment is also an exceedingly powerful predictor of marital success among today’s young married parents. Husbands and wives who prioritize their mutual identity as a couple do much better than their peers who seek to put their own needs first, or who regularly or even occasionally scan the social scene in search of potential new romantic options.

The commitment scale for this study specifically taps the extent to which spouses see their relationship in terms of “we” versus “me,” the importance they attach to their relationship, their conviction that a better relationship with someone else does not exist, and their desire to stay in the relationship “no matter what rough times we encounter.”[39]

FIGURE 17. MARITAL SATISFACTION, 18–46-YEAR-OLD MARRIED MOTHERS AND FATHERS, BY COMMITMENT

Figure 17

Note: Model adjusts for age, education, income, and race/ethnicity.

Source: Survey of Marital Generosity, 2010–2011.

As Figure 17 indicates, the association between commitment and marital success is striking. Spouses who score above average in terms of commitment are at least 45 percentage points more likely to report being “very happy” in their marriages, and 29 percentage points less likely to be prone to divorce. In other words, above-average commitment more than triples the odds of marital happiness for husbands and wives and reduces their divorce proneness sixfold. Above-average commitment is one of the top five predictors of marital quality and stability in this study (see “The Top Five Predictors of Marital Success” sidebar).

Once again, happier couples are probably more likely to embrace the norm of commitment. But, given that other research finds that relational commitment predicts future marital success,[40] we also think it likely that young married parents who embrace the “we” ethic over the “me” ethic are especially likely to enjoy happy married lives.

IV. Family Time. Relationships require face-time to flourish. Intimacy is more likely to emerge and be sustained when couples have time for one another, especially after they transition into parenthood.[41] Even though some scholars have speculated that time spent with children can put a damper on the quality of married life,[42] this study comes to the opposite conclusion. We found that, for most married parents, time spent alone with one’s spouse and time spent with one’s children both predict higher levels of marital solidarity.

Specifically, couples who spend time alone together—talking or sharing an activity—are significantly more likely to be happy in their marriages and less likely to be vulnerable to separation or divorce. Figure 18 indicates that husbands and wives who spend quality time with their spouses once a week or more are about 50 percent more likely to be “very happy” in their marriages. The figure also suggests that the link between couple time and relationship quality is particularly salient for wives. In other words, a regular date night appears to be part of the recipe for marital success among today’s parents.

FIGURE 18. MARITAL SATISFACTION, 18–46-YEAR-OLD MARRIED MOTHERS AND FATHERS, BY QUALITY TIME

Figure 18

Note: Model adjusts for age, education, income, and race/ethnicity.

Source: Survey of Marital Generosity, 2010–2011.

But there does not seem to be a zero-sum relationship between time devoted to parenthood and marriage. Fathers and mothers who spend lots of time with their children in activities such as playing, talking, or working on projects together also enjoy significantly higher levels of marital happiness and lower divorce proneness (and also enjoy more couple time with one another).[43] Figure 19 shows that wives and especially husbands who devote more time to their children also enjoy higher levels of marital happiness.

FIGURE 19. MARITAL SATISFACTION, 18–46-YEAR-OLD MARRIED MOTHERS AND FATHERS, BY TIME WITH CHILDREN

Figure 19

Note: Model adjusts for age, education, income, and race/ethnicity.

Source: Survey of Marital Generosity, 2010–2011.

Thus, a healthy mix of couple time and family time appears most likely to foster a climate of solidarity among today’s married mothers and fathers.

Soul-mate Versus Institutional Models of Marriage

Almost a decade ago, The State of Our Unions called attention to the growing cultural power of a soul-mate model of marriage in which marriage is primarily conceived of as a couple-centered vehicle for the pursuit of individual and mutual fulfillment.[44] In the hearts and minds of today’s young adults, this soul-mate model of marriage has clearly eclipsed an older, institutional model of marriage, which sees marriage not only as an expressive vehicle for the couple but also as an important source of social support, economic cooperation, and care for themselves and their children.

For instance, a recent Pew study found that only 41 percent of today’s adults see parenthood as very important to a successful marriage, down from 62 percent in 1990. By contrast, over the same time, sexual fulfillment and gender egalitarianism have gained ground as important marital values in the mind of the public. For example, in 1990 only 47 percent of adults thought sharing household chores was very important for a successful marriage; more recently, about 62 percent believe that domestic equality is very important.[45]

Yet, this cultural shift is not as complete as it might seem on first glance, especially when it comes to the reality of married life among today’s young parents. It is true that domestic gender equality, sexual satisfaction, a college degree, and spousal generosity are strong predictors of marital success among married parents—all factors that seem to be aligned more closely with a soul-mate model of marriage. But it is also true that the support of family and friends, a sound economic foundation, a good job, spousal commitment, religious faith, and family time are strong predictors of marital success among married parents in contemporary America. These factors, we would argue, are more closely aligned with the institutional model of marriage.

The enduring power of some features of the institutional model of marriage also brings to mind the more sober view of marriage and parenthood that journalist Lori Gottlieb articulated in the Atlantic Monthly in 2008, after she had some experience raising a baby on her own. She came to “realize that marriage ultimately isn’t about cosmic connection—it’s about how having a teammate, even if he’s not the love of your life, [which] is better than not having one at all.” In other words, if one can have “a decent guy who takes out the trash and sets up the baby gear, [and] provides a second income that allows you to spend time with your child instead of working 60 hours a week to support a family on your own—how much does it matter whether the guy you marry is The One?”[46]

Gottlieb’s revisionist take on marriage and parenthood is especially poignant given that the vast majority of Americans aspire to have, will have, or do have children, and that this report shows that the emotional experience of parenthood is, on average, significantly better for adults in a married context.

Nevertheless, the message of this report is not that young men and women today must simply “settle” for a passable marriage and family life, as Gottlieb’s article suggests. Rather, young men and women need to understand that paths exist in society that allow for successful navigation through the contemporary challenges of marriage and parenthood. This report suggests that, for many young adults, the best path for forming and sustaining a family is a hybrid marriage that incorporates features from the newer soul-mate model with features from the older institutional model. Such a hybrid marriage allows today’s young men and women to forge a marital friendship that is more likely to be both generally happy as well as enduring, one that, over the long-term, benefits adults and children and affords women and men the opportunity to live a life that feels ultimately meaningful.

Given the negative association between marital happiness and parenthood, one might expect that the least happy husbands and wives would be parents of large families. Not so.

In a striking finding, it turns out that the relationship between family size and marital happiness is not linear, but curvilinear (see Figure A1). In other words, according to the Survey of Marital Generosity, the happiest husbands and wives among today’s young couples are those with no children and those with four or more children.

Figure A1 reveals that about 18 percent of wives with one to three children are “very happy” in their marriage, compared to 26 percent of wives with no children or four or more children, after controlling for differences in education, income, age, race, and ethnicity. Likewise about 14 percent of husbands with one to three children are “very happy” in their marriage, compared to 25 percent of husbands with no children or four of more children, after controlling for socioeconomic differences. This means that the parents of large families are at least 40 percent more likely to be happily married than the parents of smaller families.

FIGURE A1. PREDICTED PROBABILITY OF BEING “VERY HAPPY” IN MARRIAGE, BY NUMBER OF CHILDREN AT HOME

Figure A1

Note: Model adjusts for age, education, income, and race/ethnicity.

Source: Survey of Marital Generosity, 2010–2011.

What accounts for the surprisingly higher levels of marital bliss among parents of large families, given the obvious financial, practical, and emotional challenges of raising a large family in contemporary America? This finding seems to be largely a “selection” story, in which particular types of couples end up having large numbers of children, remain married to one another, and also enjoy cultural, social, and relational strengths that more than offset the challenges of parenting a large family. In this case, the Survey of Marital Generosity suggests that fathers and mothers of large families are partly happier because they find more meaning in life, receive more support from friends who share their faith, and have a stronger religious faith than their peers with smaller families.[1]

Take religious attendance. Figure A2 shows that the parents of large families are about twice as likely to attend church, synagogue, or mosque on a weekly basis or more often. It is certainly possible that having a large family can bring some people to their knees! But it is also likely that highly religious men and women feel called by God or encouraged by their religious networks of friends and family members to have large families.[2]

FIGURE A2. PREDICTED PROBABILITY OF FREQUENTLY ATTENDING RELIGIOUS WORSHIP SERVICE, BY NUMBER OF CHILDREN AT HOME

Figure A2

Note: Model adjusts for age, education, income, and race/ethnicity.

Source: Survey of Marital Generosity, 2010–2011.

Or take meaning. Figure A3 shows that the parents of large families—especially mothers—are more likely to strongly agree that “my life has an important purpose,” compared to their married peers with smaller families or no children. Meaning undoubtedly flows from the additional texture that each child adds to both parents’ lives, but it’s also likely that men and women who have a strong generative sense that their lives are endowed with meaning are also more willing and interested in having many children.

FIGURE A3. PREDICTED PROBABILITY OF “STRONGLY AGREEING” THAT THEIR LIFE HAS AN IMPORTANT PURPOSE, BY NUMBER OF CHILDREN AT HOME

Figure A3

Note: Model adjusts for age, education, income, and race/ethnicity.

Source: Survey of Marital Generosity, 2010–2011.

Couples with large families—specifically those who are more likely to have a strong faith, a sense of meaning in life, and the social support of religious friends—also seem able to handle the challenges of parenting a large family without witnessing a drop in marital quality. The cultural and social resources at their disposal seem to make them happier spouses than peers who do not have these resources.

The role of religious faith seems to be particularly important in moderating the association between family size and marital happiness for women. Analyses of the Survey of Marital Generosity indicate that religious mothers of large families are particularly likely to enjoy high levels of marital happiness, compared both to less religious wives and to other religious wives (with fewer or no children). By contrast, religious fathers of large families are no different from other religious husbands when it comes to marital happiness.

Figure A4 shows that mothers of four or more children who are not religious are no happier than their nominally religious or secular peers who have smaller families, and they are less happy than childless wives who do not regularly attend religious services. But religious mothers of four or more children are markedly more likely than other wives—including other religious wives with fewer or no children—to report that they are “very happy” in their marriages. Figure A4 indicates that 59 percent of wives with large families who attend religious services at least weekly report that they are very happy, compared to 38 percent of childless religious wives, 30 percent of childless wives who are nominally religious or secular, slightly more than 25 percent of religious wives who have one to three children, and about 20 percent of married mothers who are nominally religious or secular.

FIGURE A4. PREDICTED PROBABILITY OF WIVES BEING “VERY HAPPY” IN MARRIAGE, BY NUMBER OF CHILDREN AT HOME AND RELIGIOUS SERVICE ATTENDANCE

Figure A4

Note: Model adjusts for age, education, income, and race/ethnicity.

Source: Survey of Marital Generosity, 2010–2011.

A skeptic might speculate that religious mothers of large families have no choice but to put on rose-colored glasses when describing their own marriages, given their practical dependence upon and moral commitment to marriage. Perhaps this is true.

But, given the religious meaning, social support, and normative importance attached to marriage by men in many religious communities, it seems likely that part of what is happening is that religious mothers of large families benefit from having particularly attentive husbands.[3] The Survey of Marital Generosity indicates that their husbands are more likely to engage in regular acts of generosity—such as making coffee in the morning for their wives or frequently expressing affection—and to spend more quality time with their spouses compared to other husbands.

While few Americans wish to have nineteen children, the blend of religious faith and social support depicted in 19 Kids and Counting may come closer to the reality of today’s large families than the equally exotic but ultimately tragic way of life brought to the small screen in Jon & Kate Plus 8.


  1. For statistical details on the results discussed in this sidebar, see www.stateofourunions.org/2011/e-ppendix.php.
  2. Sarah R. Hayford and S. Philip Morgan, “Religiosity and Fertility in the United States: The Role of Fertility Intentions,” Social Forces 86 (2008): 1163–88.
  3. W. Bradford Wilcox, Soft Patriarchs, New Men: How Christianity Shapes Fathers and Husbands (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004).

  1. Pew Social Trends Staff, Millenials: Confident. Connected. Open to Change. (Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, 2010): http://pewsocialtrends.org/files/2010/10/millennials-confident-connected-open-to-change.pdf.
  2. Lori Gottlieb, “The XY Files,” Atlantic Monthly (September 2005): http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2005/09/the-xy-files/4172/.
  3. Jennifer Senior, “All Joy and No Fun,” New York (July 4, 2010): http://nymag.com/news/features/67024/.
  4. See “Social Indicators of Marital Health and Well-Being” section below.
  5. See also Tara Parker-Pope, For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage (New York: Dutton, 2010): 165.
  6. Jeffrey Dew and W. Bradford Wilcox, “If Momma Ain’t Happy: Explaining Declines in Marital Satisfaction Among New Mothers,” Journal of Marriage and Family 73 (2011): 1–12; Sara McLanahan and Julia Adams, “Parenthood and Psychological Well-Being,” Annual Review of Sociology 13 (1987): 237–57; Jean M. Twenge, W. Keith Campbell, and Craig A. Foster, “Parenthood and Marital Satisfaction: A Meta-Analytic Review,” Journal of Marriage and Family 65 (2003): 574–83; and Debra Umberson, Tetyana Pudrovska, and Corinne Reczek, “Parenthood, Childlessness, and Well-Being: A Life Course Perspective,” Journal of Marriage and Family 72 (2010): 612–29.
  7. Figure 1 is taken from the General Social Survey (2000–2010), which asked respondents the following question: “Taken all together, how would you say things are these days—would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?” Note: All figures presented in this report control for such factors as age, education, income, race, and ethnicity that might otherwise confound the association between the independent and dependent variables depicted in the figures. For more details on the multivariate regression results undergirding this report, see www.stateofourunions.org/2011/e-ppendix.php.
  8. See also Kei M. Nomaguchi and Melissa A. Milkie, “Costs and Rewards of Children: The Effects of Becoming a Parent on Adults’ Lives,” Journal of Marriage and Family 65 (2003): 356–74; Debra Umberson and Walter R. Gove, “Parenthood and Psychological Well-Being,” Journal of Family Issues 10 (1989): 440–62; and Anna-Marie Cunningham and Chris Knoester, “Marital Status, Gender, and Parents’ Psychological Well-Being,” Sociological Inquiry 77 (2007): 264–87.
  9. Hans-Peter Kohler, Jere H. Behrman, and Axel Skytthe, “Partner + Children = Happiness? The Effects of Partnerships and Fertility on Well-Being,” Population and Development Review 31 (2005): 407–45.
  10. For this outcome, we analyze Wave 8 of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth and rely on a scale of five depression symptoms (e.g., feeling blue, feeling depressed, etc.), alpha = .79 for both men and women. Young adults scoring in the top quintile of the scale are coded as depressed.
  11. Christopher R. Beam et al., “Revisiting the Effect of Marital Support on Depressive Symptoms in Mothers and Fathers: A Genetically Informed Study,” Journal of Family Psychology 25 (2011): 336–44.
  12. Sheela Kennedy and Larry Bumpass, “Cohabitation and Trends in the Structure and Stability of Children’s Family Lives” (paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America, Washington, DC, April 1, 2011).
  13. Kellie J. Hagewen and S. Philip Morgan, “Intended and Ideal Family Size in the United States, 1970–2002,” Population and Development Review 31 (2005): 507–27; and Sam Sturgeon, “The Future of U.S. Fertility,” in The Sustainable Demographic Dividend (Barcelona: Social Trends Institute, 2011): 8.
  14. Sturgeon, “Future of U.S. Fertility,” 8.
  15. Gretchen Livingston and D’Vera Cohn, Childlessness Up Among All Women; Down Among Women with Advanced Degrees, Pew Social & Demographic Trends (Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, June 25, 2010): http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2010/06/25/childlessness-up-among-all-women-down-among-women-with-advanced-degrees/.
  16. Carolyn Pape Cowan and Philip A. Cowan, “Interventions to Ease the Transition to Parenthood: Why They Are Needed and What They Can Do,” Family Relations 44 (1995): 412.
  17. Brian D. Doss et al., “The Effect of the Transition to Parenthood on Relationship Quality: An 8-Year Prospective Study,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 96 (2009): 601–19.
  18. In the Survey of Marital Generosity, high marital conflict is defined as arguing about different marital topics several times a month or more (a “3” or higher on a scale of 1 to 6); high divorce proneness is defined as reporting a “3” or higher (on a scale of 0 to 10) regarding the likelihood that “you and your partner will eventually separate or divorce.”
  19. Parker-Pope, For Better, 165.
  20. W. Bradford Wilcox and Elizabeth Marquardt, When Marriage Disappears: The New Middle America (Charlottesville, VA: National Marriage Project/Institute for American Values, 2010).
  21. Ibid. Andrew J. Cherlin, The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today (New York: Knopf, 2009); and Steven P. Martin and Sangeeta Parashar, “Women’s Changing Attitudes Toward Divorce, 1974–2002: Evidence for an Educational Crossover,” Journal of Marriage and Family 68 (2006): 29–40.
  22. U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Economic News Release, “Employment Situation,” September 2011, Table A-4, “Employment status of the civilian population 25 years and over by educational attainment”: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t04.htm.
  23. See also Jeffrey P. Dew, “The Gendered Meanings of Assets for Divorce,” Journal of Family and Economic Issues 30 (2009): 20–31.
  24. See also Claire M. Kamp Dush and Miles G. Taylor, “Trajectories of Marital Conflict Across the Life Course: Predictors and Interactions with Marital Happiness Trajectories,” Journal of Family Issues 32 (2011): forthcoming.
  25. For this analysis, meeting employment ideals means that respondents report that their actual working hours are within four hours of their ideal work hours. Overemployment is defined as working five or more additional hours than one’s ideal work hours, and underemployment is defined as working five or more fewer hours than one’s ideal work hours. We find no relationship here between fathers’ employment fit and their marital quality/stability.
  26. In Figure 9, we rely on ordinary least squares regression and divorce proneness varies on a scale of 0 to 10.
  27. Carolyn Pape Cowan and Philip A. Cowan, When Parents Become Partners: The Big Life Change for Couples (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1999).
  28. Rose McDermott, James Fowler, and Nicholas Christakis, “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do, Unless Everyone Else Is Doing It Too: Social Network Effects on Divorce in a Longitudinal Sample Followed for 32 Years” (working paper, Department of Political Science, Brown University, Providence, RI, 2009). See also Steven Nock, Laura Ann Sanchez, and James Wright, Covenant Marriage: The Movement to Reclaim Tradition in America (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2008).
  29. The alpha for the social support scale is .72 for husbands, .80 for wives.
  30. See also Annette Mahoney et al., “Religion and the Sanctification of Family Relationships,” Review of Religious Research 40 (2003): 220–36.
  31. Ancillary analysis of the Survey of Marital Generosity is available on request.
  32. W. Bradford Wilcox and Steven L. Nock, “What’s Love Got to Do With It? Equality, Equity, Commitment, and Women’s Marital Quality,” Social Forces 84 (2006): 1321–45; and Paul Amato and Stacy J. Rogers, “Do Attitudes Toward Divorce Affect Marital Quality?” Journal of Family Issues 20 (1999): 69–86.
  33. Janis E. Byrd et al., “Sexuality During Pregnancy and the Year Postpartum,” Journal of Family Practice 47 (1996): 305–308; and John M. Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman, And Baby Makes Three: The Six-Step Plan for Preserving Marital Intimacy and Rekindling Romance After Baby Arrives (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007).
  34. Ancillary analysis of the Survey of Marital Generosity is available on request.
  35. See, for example, Gordon Gallup, Rebecca Burch, and Steven Platek, “Does Semen Have Antidepressant Properties?” Archives of Sexual Behavior 31 (2002): 289–93; and Larry Young and Zuoxin Wang, “The Nuerobiology of Pair Bonding,” Nature Neuroscience 7 (2004): 1048–54.
  36. Science of Generosity Initiative, University of Notre Dame, “What is Generosity?” http://generosityresearch.nd.edu/more-about-the-initiative/what-is-generosity/.
  37. The alpha for the generosity scale is .84 for both husbands and wives.
  38. See, for example, Scott Stanley et al., “Sacrifice as a Predictor of Marital Outcomes,” Family Process 45 (2006): 289–303.
  39. We used a brief form of the dedication scale from the Commitment Inventory that has an alpha in the Survey of Marital Generosity of .81 for both husbands and wives and was published in Scott Stanley and Howard Markman, “Assessing Commitment in Personal Relationships,” Journal of Marriage and Family 54 (1992): 595–608.
  40. Stanley et al., “Sacrifice as a Predictor.”
  41. Dew and Wilcox, “If Momma Ain’t Happy”; Gottman and Gottman, And Baby Makes Three.
  42. See, for instance, Kerry Daly, “Deconstructing Family Time: From Ideology to Lived Experience,” Journal of Marriage and Family 63 (2001): 283–94.
  43. Ancillary analysis of the Survey of Marital Generosity is available on request.
  44. Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and David Popenoe, The State of Our Unions: 2002 (New Brunswick, NJ: National Marriage Project, 2002).
  45. Paul Taylor, Cary Funk, and April Clark, As Marriage and Parenthood Drift Apart, Public Is Concerned About Social Impact, Pew Social & Demographic Trends (Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, July 1, 2007): http://pewresearch.org/assets/social/pdf/Marriage.pdf.
  46. Lori Gottlieb, “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough,” Atlantic Monthly (March 2008): http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/03/marry-him/6651/.