I’ve now had a chance to see a lot of the coverage of the study of marriage and cohabitation among men and women ages 15 to 44 that was conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). Yesterday I analyzed the coverage in the New York Times, which was schizophrenic in that most of the article went about disproving what the article reported in the headline and first two paragraphs as the study’s most important finding. That finding was that people who cohabit are 6% less likely to be together 10 years after marriage than people who don’t live together before getting hitched. The Times article buried the real significance of the study, that more than 61% of all women now cohabit with someone else sometime in their lives.
It turns out that most of the rest of the news media focused coverage of the NCHS study on either proving or refuting the assertion that cohabitants are less lucky in marriage later on in life. Here is a representative sampling of the coverage spins:
- ABC-TV nationally ran with the Times version and may even have broken the story with the misleading, almost fallacious focus that the Times used.
- KGO-TV, the San Francisco ABC affiliate, also ran with the ABC-Times version.
- Reuters tried to show that marriages last longer than cohabitations, a bizarre twist that reduced the article to a shabby bait-and-switch: Reuters said that 78% of marriages lasted at least five years, whereas only 30% of cohabitations did, and then immediately pointed out that the main reason that cohabitations ended so soon is because slightly more than half of all cohabitating couples marry within three years of shacking up.
- USA Today went with the herd on focusing on the question, do more cohabitants divorce?, but at least it got the facts straight, reporting that couples who live together before marriage and those who don’t both have about the same chances of a successful union.
- Top News took the USA Today line.
- NBC-TV offered yet another angle for the most newsworthy finding of the study: “Two-thirds of first marriages last at least a decade, which was a goal found to be more likely when the couple had children. Childless marriages were more than twice as likely to end before the 10 year mark.”
(Sidetrack: Some media said it was a NCHS survey, while others identified the organization of which NCHS is a part, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). CDC is better known.)
In other words, the news media for the most part entirely ignored the fact that the survey showed that more than 61% of all U.S. women now live with someone in a sexual relationship without the benefit of marriage for some period in their life, twice as many as a mere 15 years ago.
In other words, living together is now the norm. It may not be what the Christian right or the mainstream media arbiters of taste want to hear or want us to know, but there it is.
It’s too bad that most people depend on the mainstream news media or the rightwing fringe media for most of their information. Think about all the young women and men made to feel bad by pious bigots of their acquaintance or exhorters against “living in sin” on one of the several Christian TV and radio networks. If those kids only had access to the NCHS survey they’d realize that everyone’s doing it, which means it’s probably not that bad.