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Increasing Unmarrieds Challenge Family Religious Celebrations – OpEd

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The number of Americans who say religion is “very important” in their lives is falling: only 41% of Americans consider religion “very important” in their lives, down 15 points from 15 years ago 56% in 2007.

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White Protestants account for most of the decline — down 4 percentage points from five years ago and 10 percentage points since a decade ago, with both evangelical and non-evangelical Protestants declining overall to 40% of U.S. adults. Catholics held relatively steady at 21%.

And recent Pew Research Center data shows that nearly half of U.S. adults are unmarried––and half of that population is not interested in dating. “There are 128 million unmarried American adults, and 25% of millennials are projected to never marry,” said Peter McGraw, a professor of marketing and psychology at the Leeds School of Business.

The trend is seen even in those who do ultimately marry. U.S. Census Bureau data shows the average age for first marriage in 2020 was 30 for men and 28 for women, up 11% from 2000 when men typically married at 27 and women at 25. The average age of first marriage has been steadily increasing for both genders since 1970.

The increase in home prices coupled with the lack of inventory also doesn’t bode well for single people. “Half of the adult U.S. population is single, living on one income, yet buying a house today is really designed for a two-income family,” Professor McGraw said.

These demographic trends will create major challenges to most traditional religions that have greatly flourished through the ritual celebration activities of larger generational family units. Protestants, who experience their religion mostly as individuals, even when in mega-churches, will suffer less than American Hindus, Jews and Muslims who will face the greatest challenges.

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Singles themselves will have many challenges. Single men’s health declines greatly compared to married men. A pooled analysis of data from 34 studies published between 1963 and 2015 involving more than 2 million people aged between 42 and 77 from Europe, North America, the Middle East, and Asia revealed that, compared with people who were married, those who weren’t (never married, divorced, widowed) were at heightened risk of developing cardiovascular disease (42%) and coronary artery heart disease (16%).

Not being married was also associated with a heightened risk of dying from both coronary heart disease (42%) and stroke (55%).

Since many studies have shown that men with a wife live healthier and longer lives than men without a wife, these trends bode ill for male life span in future decades. For example, Duke University researchers showed that over the 18 year course of their study between 1992 and 2010, roughly one in three people divorced at least once. Men were 10% more likely to have a heart attack than men who were continuously married; and a 30% increase in heart attacks after multiple divorces. (BBC News 4/15/15)

This is simply one of many resent studies that provide overwhelming evidence that: marriage is good for men, divorce is not good for men, and never marring is very bad for men.

Men truly need wives to live well, both physically and spiritually, as Adam our archetypical progenitor learned. In the Jewish religious tradition the great events of the Torah are often retold and re-imagined in order to gain new insights for later generations.

A good example of this rabbinic process, as applied to our Scriptural archetypal human ancestors, is this modern account of Adam and Eve:

At first, Adam was all alone. He didn’t have parents and he didn’t have children. He did not even have a brother, a sister or a friend to talk with. Adam was lonely, and he was unhappy.

God said to Adam, “It is not good for you to be alone.[Genesis 2:18] But now you are free to do whatever you want to do. When you are alone you don’t have to share things with others. You don’t have to stop talking and just listen when someone else needs to talk to you. You don’t have to help when others need help. You don’t have to care about how someone else feels. If you had a sister or a brother or a good friend, you would have to do all these things and many more.”

“I don’t like being lonely” said Adam, ” I have lots of things for fun and games; but I get bored with them after a while. I have several pet animals, but even having animals is not good enough for me. I still feel lonely and all alone. I need someone who is like me but at the same time is different. I need a partner. Someone to stand by my side and be my best friend. I need someone I can take care of, and who will care for me.”

“I know just what you need.” said God, “What you need is a help mate. A person with a different personality, who can grow together with you in love, and help you become a responsible, kind and loving human being. I am going to form her right out of your side, so she will stand side by side with you as your equal partner, your help mate. (Genesis 2:21-23)

The two of you will be like one pair of hands. You know, one hand cannot wash itself. But two hands can always wash each other. You will have to be responsible for and to each other. You will no longer be independent. You will not be free to do whatever you want anymore. You will have to think about another person’s feelings. You will have to listen to what she tells you. You will have to think less about your self and more about another. I will give you a blessing to help you become a couple.” (Genesis 1:27-8)

God saw that Adam had fallen into a deep sleep. God hoped that when Adam awoke he would remember all that God had told him. Even if Adam and all his descendants didn’t always become the loving responsible help mates that God wanted them to be, God thought they would become better by trying.

And those couples who were fully responsible partners and help mates for each other would become God’s blessing. Then the sons of Adam would realize that the daughters of Eve were all gifts from God.

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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