Pew Poll on Marriage and Parenthood Reflects Narcissism, Cultural Corrosion

The headlines tell the tale: Cohabitation, Unwed Motherhood Soaring in Younger Generation (USA Today); To Be Happy in Marriage Baby Carriage Not Required (The Washington Post); Key to a Good Marriage? Share Housework (Chicago Tribune); Happy Marriages, Kids Optional (MSNBC).

This is just a sampling of how the mainstream media treated the findings of a controversial, just-released study by the Pew Research Center.   The study finds that out-of-wedlock births are up, from 5.3 percent of all births in 1960 to 36.8 percent in 2005. It also finds that Americans in increasing numbers believe marriage exists for the “mutual happiness and fulfillment” of adults rather than the “bearing and raising of children.”

Interestingly, at the Pew Research Center's Web site, the headline of the survey (click here to read the finding for yourself) reads As Marriage and Parenthood Drift Apart, Public is Concerned about Social Impact. 

Pew's headline tells the real tale.  Buried deep in the stories on the poll in leading papers like USA Today and The Washington Post are nuggets like:  65% of Americans say single women having children is bad for society.  59% say the same about unmarried couples.  70% say a child needs a home with a mother and father to grow up happily.

But those statistics reinforce socially conservative views.  The mainstream media prefer to promote a different set of values. 

Yes, unwed motherhood is up, but it is not happening among teens.  It is mostly among 20-to-30 year old white women, many of whom are living with the children's father.

Just like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

The poll found that cohabitation is also up with 47 percent of people in their 30s and 40s saying they spent a portion of their lives in a cohabiting relationship.

Hmmmm. MTV has been around for 25 years now.  Most of the people in this age range are part of the MTV generation and have been consuming the values that it has been pumping into minds for a quarter of a century.  Like cohabitation.  What is The Real World except a reality show about cohabitation?

This isn't much of a surprise.  In a special report entitled The Media Assault on American Values, the Culture and Media Institute documents its own survey finding that 64 percent of the American public believes the media are an important factor in forming our moral values.  They appear to be correct.  In the sub-head of its own poll, the Pew Research Center says there is a generation gap in values and behavior.  According to Pew, “Younger adults attach far less moral stigma than do their elders to out-of-wedlock births and cohabitation without marriage. They engage in these behaviors at rates unprecedented in U.S. history.”

America's “younger generation” has grown up in a media-saturated culture in which MTV is watched by 78 percent of teens.  Rap music glorifies misogyny.  Healthy marriages and intact families are an endangered species on television screens.  The number one comedy on prime time television is Two and a Half Men, in which the main character jumps in and out of bed like it's an Olympic sport.  Paris Hilton and the bad-girl partiers she hangs out with, like Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears, are role models for young girls.

Is it any wonder a survey like this finds a values shift in “younger adults?”  They've been fed these values by the culture.  And while mom and dad (if they even are living in the same household) are the first and best informers of values and morals, it takes Herculean effort to counterbalance what the culture feeds our kids.  Day in and day out, 24-7, via the television, movies, internet, video games, music…..  Really.  Is it any wonder at all that this poll says what it does?

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.