Part of a new study on generational differences in values by the Pew Research Center ranks a list of factors considered "very important" for a successful/happy marriage, and compares the results to a 1990 survey.
Highest to lowest in 2007, with % of responses agreeing in 2007 vs. 1990:
- faithfulness (93/95)
- happy sexual relationship(70/67)
- sharing household chores (62/47)
- adequate income (53/46)
- good housing (51/42)
- shared religious beliefs (49/45)
- shared tastes and interests (46/44)
- children (41/65)
- agreement on politics (12/11)
Some of my thoughts about this are part of my comment on Nataly's post about the survey:
[...It seems like in many marriages it ends up being about “the kids” and/or “the family” (which usually means "the kids") after awhile, and “the couple” ends up getting lost somewhere, having not much in common anymore except the kids. That was definitely one of the things that occurred between my ex-husband and me. (Also from that experience, I can attest to the high importance of faithfulness, but won’t get into that discussion right now.) Also, especially in the early years, kids need so much time and attention that, especially when both parents are working too, there may not be a lot left over for each other. I think that once kids are in the picture, a couple may feel more like a family, but those joys definitely come in a package deal with stress. And I completely agree with (another commenter) about the importance of a strong relationship PRIOR to having kids.] That's another thing that ultimately worked against First Husband and me, I think - we thought we had that, but we were probably too young to know that for real, and as time changed, so did we. It's a long way between 18 and 38, and even longer when you're parents at 20.I notice that factors related to sex and money both rank a lot higher than kids do in making a marriage work, and that makes sense since those are supposedly the things couples argue about the most.
I’m now remarried with two stepchildren, and I’ve heard that, statistically, the biggest factor in breakups of second marriages is the children from the prior marriages. It does make forging a strong relationship as a couple more challenging when the kids are present from the get-go. But I’m very lucky so far. My stepkids are great people, and my husband and I are both committed to making everything work. Also, his shared-custody arrangement with his ex effectively gives us set amounts of “couple time” and “family time.”
It's also interesting that such practical considerations as family income, housing, and sharing household chores have gained a lot of importance relative to marital success since the 1990 survey, during a time when two-income families have become much more common and economically necessary.
Raising kids is enough of a challenge as part of a married couple, and it's one I'm glad I didn't have to face in another setting...my "single parent" years didn't start until my son was in college and halfway to being on his own. But, especially from my current perspective as part of a couple who won't have children of their own together, I definitely wouldn't consider them one of the most important factors in making a successful marriage...and I think all the things ranked ahead of them in the survey are ranked there appropriately.