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What Americans think about marriage, sex and the future

A new report by the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture unpacks American attitudes about faith, family, marriage and more.

Researchers gathered 15,738 surveys from adults ages 18 to 60 to get a sense of changing attitudes regarding topics like cohabitation — 44 percent think it's OK, 30 percent neutral, 25 opposed — to whether marriage is an outdated notion — 66 percent say no, 10 percent say yes.

“The survey results coincided with what other research finds: a majority of young Americans say getting married is important to them. Additionally, marriage is connected with better outcomes for adults, children and society. Married individuals are, on average, happier, healthier and wealthier, and children do best when raised by their married mother and father,” writes Rachel Sheffield for The Daily Signal.

“Yet, there has been a significant decline in marriage rates. What’s more, there is a growing marriage divide today: Marriage seems to be turning into an elite institution with marriage becoming less common in lower-income and working-class communities. This is alarming considering marriage provides economic stability and promotes social mobility. As marriage rates have declined, unwed childbearing has increased, putting children at greater risk for poverty and other negative outcomes.”

In the introduction to the report, the Austin researchers note that “American society has undergone a veritable revolution over the past half-century in the way in which its population understands and approaches family life, religious faith and sexuality. Within that span technological, cultural and legislative changes have shifted the way many think about each of these.”

The survey found that respondents averaged four to six lifetime sexual partners. It also found that number has impact. “Men and women who only have sex with the person they marry report higher marital quality. Furthermore, the timing of sex in a relationship makes a difference: Couples who wait until they are married to have sex also report better marital quality,” Sheffield wrote in her summary.

The report found that Mormons are the most likely to attend service compared to other faiths, at over 80 percent weekly. Protestants are slightly more likely than Catholics to attend services.

In sexual orientation, 89.7 percent of men and 85.7 percent of women say they are completely heterosexual, while 3.5 percent of men and 9 percent of women say they are “mostly heterosexual.” Not quite 4 percent of women and 7 percent of men identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual. That's just over 11 million adults nationwide, the report said.

The report also shows that 20 percent of married women and 13 percent of married men say they thought about leaving their spouse in the last year. Women are “consistently more likely to file for divorce” than their husbands are.

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