Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson misses his late, beloved wife, Frances, who died in May. She was, he said, "the love of my life, my trusted confidant and my closest friend."
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of The Quorum of the Twelve feels a particular affinity and care for those who struggle with emotional disorders or mental illness, in part because he has battled depression himself.
As a physician, Elder Russell M. Nelson of The Quorum of the Twelve developed a profound respect for the human body by watching it heal. His profession also allowed him to study the human spirit as he watched families cope with the challenges they'd been given. "Stellar spirits are often housed in imperfect bodies," is how he described it.
The pressures that families face formed a thread that ran through talks Saturday and Sunday during the 183rd Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The issues, from addictions to absent fathers, premarital births to depression, are also well-known to those who study family challenges. While the conference addressed an international audience, it's easy to find specific application in research on American family life that is relevant around the world.
The sharply declining numbers of births and marriages in historically Christian and Jewish cultures is cause for grief, said Elder Dallin H. Oaks of The Quorum of the Twelve. He noted America's lowest-ever birth rate and the fact that many other developed nations, including in Europe, no longer have babies in numbers sufficient to maintain their population. Meanwhile, the U.S. Census Bureau has said that marriage among young adults has fallen, the median age has risen and birth often occurs before or without marriage.
"Elder Oaks hit a lot of statistics and really highlighted many of the primary issues that are causing particular difficulties in family life," Dean Busby, director of the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University, told the Deseret News.
The average age at first marriage is close to 30 now. At first, the creep upward seemed like it might be a good thing because it indicated fewer teenage marriages, which can be problematic. But whatever benefit that conferred has now passed into a liability as the age continued upward, Busby said. After age 30, researchers now see the same patterns in terms of longevity — marriages don't last as long — and diminished marital satisfaction that was common when teenagers wed. Marriage, it appears, is not as good when begun "at an early age and again at later ages," Busby pointed out. Somewhere between, in the early to mid-20s, "is more ideal."
Busby said researchers have found when working with young people from not only LDS but other faith backgrounds, "the challenge to stay morally clean for all those years while dating is just exacerbated if they marry later. We are seeing across the country many more births to unwed parents. For the first time in the history of the country, the average age of (the parent at) the birth of the first child is lower than the average age of marriage."
Those trends have profound impact on families, documented a few months ago in a report produced jointly by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, the national Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and the RELATE Institute. The report is called “Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America.”
Other distinct journeys are buried in the story of delayed marriage, said Kay Hymowitz, William E. Simon Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, at the time of the report. “It is working out very well indeed for college-educated men and women, particularly women,” because they tend to graduate and then start families. They typically have higher household income and most likely marry higher-achieving men.
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