Marriage Not Important Enough to Study? Census Bureau May Eliminate Marriage Questions From Major Survey
Christian Post | December 8, 2014
The U.S. Census Bureau is considering a plan to eliminate questions about marriage from the American Community Survey. Researchers who use that data and recognize marriage as an important explanatory variable are dismayed by the proposal.
The ACS surveys about 3 million American households every year, making it the largest survey in America outside of the census conducted once every 10 years. The large sample provides researchers with a useful dataset about the U.S. population. The data is also used to determine the distribution of funds for some government programs.
The Census Bureau wants to eliminate some of the questions in order to reduce the amount of time required for each respondent to complete the survey. Among the seven questions on the chopping block, five of them are about marriage.
The proposal comes during a time of heightened interest in studying the role marriage plays in society. For instance, the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, has held events and published reports on the relationship between marriage and poverty. One of those recent reports found that married men and women raised by married parents enjoy incomes $42,000 higher than those raised in non-intact homes.
In an email to The Christian Post, professor W. Bradford Wilcox, one of the authors of that report and the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, expressed concern about the Census Bureau's plans.
The ACS marriage questions are "helpful in painting an accurate statistical portrait of American family life," he said, and "losing them would be a tragedy."
In an interview with Politifact, the head of the ACS, Jim Treat, denied that the Census Bureau has something against marriage. The marriage questions are being considered for elimination, he claimed, because when he asked government agencies which questions they use the most, the marriage questions ranked low.
In an interview with triblive.com, Steven Ruggles, professor of history and population studies at the University of Minnesota, called the proposal "just crazy."
"We are in a period where marriage is changing more rapidly than ever in our history," he said, and the ACS "gives us a tool" to understand those changes.
Other researchers have pointed out that the Social Security Administration is one of the agencies that relies upon the marriage data, and without that data it is impossible to get reliable estimates on when Social Security will go bankrupt.
"Without those questions, even actuaries and economists inside the Social Security Administration can only rely on speculation," Samir Soneji, assistant professor at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, told Politifact.
The five questions ask respondents if they (1) got married, (2) got divorced or (3) were widowed in the past 12 months, (4) how many times they have been married and (5) the year they last got married.
The other two questions being considered for elimination asks respondents about their major in college and whether there is a business on their property.