Amid social upheaval, Census proposes no marriage questions

by Will Hall, |
The U.S. Census Bureau plans to continue collect information about how homes are heated and the types of Internet devices Americans use, but not data about marriage and divorce. Graphic: U.S. CENSUS BUREAU

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Christian Examiner) – Amid the most turbulent social upheaval in history with the push to re-define marriage combined with declining marriage rates, the U.S. Census Bureau is proposing to drop questions about marriage and divorce from the American Community Survey, its largest data gathering effort among U.S. households outside of the 10-year census.

The Census Bureau says the information collected each year helps "determine how more than $400 billion in federal and state funds are distributed each year."

The Department of Commerce oversees the Census Bureau.

But it also is critical to demographers tracking key social changes.

About 250,000 surveys are sent out each month to gather basic information about age, gender, ethnicity, as well as various financial data points.

"All this detail is combined into statistics that are used to help decide everything from school lunch programs to new hospitals," according to the Bureau.

But some of the most important information it collects helps researchers understand marriage and family relationships in our society. The ACS provides essential data in this regard -- especially with the ten year hiatus between the survey of all households -- because it is the most reliable source of this information.

"There is no possible doubt that the United States has the worst registration system for marriage and divorce of any developed country in the world," Steven Ruggles told the Pew Research Center. He is president-elect of the Population Association of America, a non-profit professional group that has asked the bureau not to drop questions about marriage and divorce.

According to Ruggles, six states have not reported marriages and divorces at all for the last ten years, and there has been no raw count for the remaining 44 states since 2011. A situation he calls "a disgrace."

Consequently, the 3 million annual forms collected by the ACS provide key statistics about families – the foundational social unit in every culture – to help researchers understand the social health and growth of the country.

Demographers already are tracking a generational marriage gap and a flagging attitude among younger Americans about the importance of marriage, but the remarkable legal changes to the definition of marriage figure to shape such attitudes even more before the next decennial census.

Now, during this historic social shift, the Census Bureau wants to cease collecting prime data.

Patrick Fagan, director of the Marriage and Religion Institute at the Family Research Council told the Washington Times the move is "astounding."

"It is analogous to the Bureau of Labor Statistics ... dropping data on income, jobs or productivity," he added. "Maybe it's time for the Congress to directly look into this."

The Census Bureau said the proposal is open for written public comment through Dec. 30 and a report submitted April 1, 2015, to the Office of Management and Budget. Any changes would take effect in 2016.

Information about how to submit comments is available through the Federal Register website, a daily federal government publication that issues proposed and final administrative regulations of U.S. agencies.