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Opinions about marriage are becoming more partisan, new survey shows

A panel of family experts discussed findings from the 2023 American Family Survey, and also addressed the declining fertility rate in Utah and the need for political compromise

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Mallory Bateman, director of demographic research with the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, Jeremy Pope, Wheatley Institute Fellow and BYU professor, and Deseret News family reporter Lois Collins speak during a panel discussion at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023. The Deseret News hosted a panel discussion focused on the 2023 findings of the ninth annual American Family Survey and the impact on families in Utah and nationwide.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Democrats and Republicans have very different opinions on marriage, fertility and whether the government should provide support for families, but experts on the family say we’re more alike than we think.

A panel discussed findings from the 2023 American Family Survey Tuesday, shedding light on Americans’ feelings about marriage, families, declining fertility rates and the need to compromise and find common ground across political differences.

“There are areas of agreement and there are areas of disagreement,” panelist Jeremy Pope, Wheatley Institute Fellow and Brigham Young University professor, said. “Don’t kid yourself into thinking that disagreement overwhelms agreement; there’s some of both.”

The ninth annual American Family Survey, released on Dec. 5, was conducted by YouGov for the Wheatley Institute, the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at BYU and the Deseret News. The survey used responses from a nationally representative sample of 3,000 U.S. adults to gather information on the nation’s attitudes on issues affecting families.

This year’s survey included new questions designed to help researchers gain a better understanding of the problems American families are facing, both the issues people reported in their own families and those they felt were affecting families in general.

The panel was moderated by Natalie Gochnour, director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, and in addition to Pope included Mallory Bateman, director of demographic research at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, and Lois Collins, a Deseret News family reporter.

Pope began by sharing an overview of the survey’s findings and comparing results across different demographics and political parties. Despite differences between American families, Pope said the survey shows we are more alike than we think.

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Jeremy Pope, Wheatley Institute Fellow and BYU professor, speaks during a panel discussion at the institute in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023. The Deseret News, along with the Wheatley Institute and Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, hosted a panel discussion focused on the 2023 findings of the ninth annual American Family Survey and the impact on families in Utah and nationwide.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

While the survey shows Republicans tend to report higher concern over issues like declining participation in religion and children growing up without two parents in the home, Democrats were more likely to say high work demands and mental and physical health are problems for their families. However, both were almost equally concerned about the issue of bias in schools.

One of the greatest apparent conflicts noted in the survey relates to Americans’ views on marriage. Pope addressed the “storm clouds of politicization” on America’s horizon, noting that while there are certainly good reasons why people may not want to get married, he found it “worrisome” that marriage rates are declining.

Bateman used the survey’s findings to provide context for what she is seeing in Utah and addressed the declining fertility rate, both nationally and in Utah. Utah’s fertility rate has either gone down or stayed constant for 14 consecutive years, and Bateman said there are a number of factors affecting that trend.

“Our total fertility rate is now fourth in the nation. We have been No. 1 for decades,” Bateman said. “Part of that is people waiting longer (to have children). There are a lot of reasons why people delay.”

Bateman noted some of those reasons may be positive, such as growing educational opportunities for women. She said it is concerning when people want to have kids and either can’t or feel that they can’t support them.

Collins said many people are concerned to start families because the rising cost of living has made it difficult to support themselves financially.

“I talk to a lot of young people who don’t know that they will ever have children because they don’t see an opportunity economically to do that,” she said.

She added many Americans likely don’t realize the ripple effects the declining fertility rate will have on our society and economy.

“They think about an individual decision, but it has societal effects,” she said, pointing out how programs for older Americans, like Social Security, are supported by the next generation of workers.

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Deseret News family reporter Lois Collins speaks during a panel discussion in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023. The Deseret News, along with the Wheatley Institute and Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, hosted a panel discussion focused on the 2023 findings of the ninth annual American Family Survey and the impact on families in Utah and nationwide.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Gochnour said the survey showed Republicans are more likely to support the idea of marriage, and are more concerned about declining fertility, but don’t approve of policies that would provide support for families, whereas Democrats were less worried about marriage and fertility but wanted more support for families.

Pope addressed this dilemma and encouraged political parties to work together to encourage and support families and familial growth.

“Families are one of the most important institutions for dealing with inequality,” he said. “If you want to have a strong coalition for marriage, you’re probably going to have to have people on the left admit that marriage is really, really important. If you’re on the right, you’re going to have to ask yourself — if families say they’re struggling, what are the ways in which government and leaders in society can support families institutionally?”