Is Marriage Too Unimportant To Study By the US Census Bureau?

Is Marriage Too Unimportant To Study By the US Census Bureau?

Those who study marriage trends in the United States are disappointed to hear that the U.S. Census Bureau is contemplating the elimination of questions about marriage from the American Community Survey (ACS).

As PolitiFact reports, the ACS provides researchers with a very large sample — over 3.5 million American homes — that yields useful data.

The Census Bureau, however, is reportedly more interested in decreasing the time required for participants to respond to the survey. Consequently, seven questions – five of them about marriage — are being considered for elimination.

But ACS chief Jim Treat told PolitiFact that his office is not having a dispute with marriage:

The problem with the questions, Treat explained, is that when Census officials asked other government agencies what survey questions were most important, the five ones on marriage ranked low compared to the rest. (Also on the chopping block is a question about medical offices and another about your undergraduate major.)

Nevertheless, researchers, such as Steven Ruggles, president-elect of the Population Association of America, which studies population trends, said, “Marriage patterns are changing more rapidly than in any time in our history.”

“Without this data, we would have no idea that a third of the people who are 20 to 24 years old now will never be married,” Ruggles added. “We wouldn’t know that divorce has surged among Baby Boomers.”

According to PolitiFact, Ruggles has rounded up his colleagues to let their concern be known to the Department of Commerce, the federal department that oversees the Census Bureau.

In addition to research concerns related to the elimination of marriage questions on the survey, some groups want the questions to remain because of principle.

“It makes no sense to take away questions about the most foundational relationship out of which springs every community and society,” Family Research Council’s Dr. Patrick Fagan told PolitiFact. “Weakening the American Community Survey is simply bad policy and takes major real estate away from marriage and family data.”

Others point out that the Social Security Administration depends on answers to all of the ACS marriage questions to help it determine the size of benefit checks.

“Without the American Community Survey spousal questions, no one outside the Social Security Administration has any basis for evaluation,” Samir Soneji at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice said. “Without those questions, even actuaries and economists inside the Social Security Administration can only rely on speculation.”

Americans concerned about the removal of marriage-related questions from the ACS can contact the Census Bureau and provide feedback.


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