Marriage and Family in the Post-COVID-19 World

November 10, 2021 Updated: November 15, 2021


“The new wealth in America is familial wealth, and the new poverty, familial poverty,” Mary Eberstadt, a senior research fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington, wrote several years ago.

I was reminded of those words as I was studying a new report (pdf) by W. Bradford Wilcox and the Institute for Family Studies that looks at the state of marriage and family in the United States as we reach (hopefully) the last stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In September, Wilcox and his team surveyed men and women between the ages of 18 and 55 about family formation. What they discovered is that the pandemic has widened the marriage and family gap between the rich and the poor, the religious and the non-religious, and the conservative and the liberal.

The study found that since the pandemic started in March 2020, the desire to marry among higher-income Americans (those making more than $100,000 per year) has increased by 9 percentage points and that the desire to have children has increased by 1 percentage point.

But the opposite is true among middle-to-lower income Americans. While the desire to get married (the good news) has increased at a lower rate—4 percentage points for the middle class and 2 percentage points for lower-income Americans—the desire to have children has decreased by 6 percentage points for the middle class and by an alarming 11 percentage points for the lower class.

When Wilcox’s team looked at the differences between the religious and the non-religious, they found that the desire to marry among unmarried adults increased by 8 percentage points among those who regularly attended worship services. But that number hadn’t increased at all among those who are non-religious. The desire to have children fell by 1 percentage point—not a cause for alarm—among the religious, but it fell by a net of 11 percentage points among the non-religious.

Also, the study found that Republicans were more interested in getting married than Democrats or independents. Also, while the desire to have children rose by 1 percentage point for Republicans, it dropped dramatically for independents (11 percentage points) and Democrats (12 percentage points).

“In a pandemic-haunted world … three ingredients have emerged as signally important for family formation in the United States: money, hope, and a deep dedication to family,” the study reads. “And the rich, religious, and the Republicans are generally more likely to possess one or more of these ingredients, compared to their lower-income, secular, and Democrat/Independent-affiliated fellow citizens.”

For those of us with a religious and conservative bent, on the surface, this is intriguing news—a coming generation of more religious and conservative adults. But on the other hand, as the report notes, these numbers will also continue to accelerate the deepening divide in each of these areas.

Why? Because if marriage rates continue to dip among the middle and lower classes and the non-religious, there will still be children born out of wedlock (even if the number of children may be going down) with the associated issues of poverty, societal alienation, and identity issues that come with it.

Meanwhile, those children whose parents are married and have raised them with financial and parental security are more likely to thrive.

While the latter situation is ideal, there are some alarming signs that come with it. In particular, more clashes could occur between the so-called haves and have-nots—children born into stable homes having built-in advantages over those who weren’t and accelerating the helplessness and alienation of children who aren’t born and raised in beneficial circumstances.

“As the pandemic lifts, the nation is likely to see a deepening divide between the affluent and everybody else, between the religious and the secular, and between Republicans and Democrats in their propensity to marry and have children,” the study reads.

As noted by the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector more than a decade ago, the result becomes a caste society that only perpetuates the cycle, which has greatly increased with the breakdown of marriage and family among the middle and lower classes and the helplessness and the corresponding dependencies among the poor as they see those raised in stable families continue to thrive.

My hope for a post-pandemic United States is one where every American—regardless of class—sees the value of getting married, having children, and raising those children in a stable, loving home, regardless of material comfort or the lack of material comfort. That’s a scenario that will bring Americans together rather than further drive us apart.

This major new study confirms that the state and fate of the American family and marriage continue to be the most important bellwether and predictor of national weakness or strength.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Timothy S. Goeglein is the vice president of government and external relations at Focus on the Family in Washington, DC, and co-author of "American Restoration: How Faith, Family, and Personal Sacrifice Can Heal Our Nation."