Despite gender fluidity’s fifteen minutes of progressive fame, men and women still hold differing opinions on what is “morally acceptable” in the confines of a romantic relationship.

Polling released by Gallup Monday showed that the spectrum of “morally acceptable” behaviors has grown, but a crevasse splits men and women on issues like pornography, divorce, polygamy, extramarital affairs, and oddly, having children out of wedlock.

Women are more accepting of having children outside of marriage and divorce. Women too, are less likely to find homosexuality morally unacceptable.

Gallup Polling Men and Women

According to Gallup:

These findings come from Gallup’s May 6-10 Values and Beliefs survey, which is the latest update of a poll that has documented the changing social mores of the country since the early 2000s. This year’s survey found a general nationwide shift toward acceptance of once-controversial issues, and even small increases in behaviors widely regarded as morally taboo.

But even against the current of increasing social permissiveness, men and women still have notable disagreements on several issues related to sex, relationships and marriage. Pornography is the source of the largest discord between men and women. Consistently since 2011, men have been about twice as likely as women to say pornography is “morally acceptable.” Nonetheless a clear consensus exists among both genders on this issue, with regular majorities of men and women saying pornography is “morally wrong.”

Interestingly, men were slightly more likely to view polygamy and affairs as morally acceptable. Even among men open to a swinging lifestyle, the overall percentage was low.

Moral Acceptability Married Men and Women Having an Affair, by Gender

Within Gallup’s poll, there were two other deviating issues: divorce and kids out of wedlock. In both cases, women were more accepting, though not by much.


Moral Acceptability of Having a Baby Outside of Marriage, by Gender

And divorce:

Moral Acceptability of Divorce, by Gender

Is the growing acceptance of divorce and having babies outside of marriage an indicator that the family unit is dying?

Not necessarily.

Several indicators suggest that while ideas about marriage may be changing, the family unit itself is not in its death throws. At least not yet anyway.

Last year, the New York Times published an article illustrating that while divorce rates peaked in the 70s and 80s, divorce rates have actually declined in subsequent decades. Yet for some reason, the “half of all marriages end in divorce mantra” is still a foundational part of relationship lore.

Despite hand-wringing about the institution of marriage, marriages in this country are stronger today than they have been in a long time. The divorce rate peaked in the 1970s and early 1980s and has been declining for the three decades since.

About 70 percent of marriages that began in the 1990s reached their 15th anniversary (excluding those in which a spouse died), up from about 65 percent of those that began in the 1970s and 1980s. Those who married in the 2000s are so far divorcing at even lower rates. If current trends continue, nearly two-thirds of marriages will never involve a divorce, according to data from Justin Wolfers, a University of Michigan economist (who also contributes to The Upshot).

The NYT argued there were several reasons for the declining divorce rate, among which were the increase in the average marrying age, the decline in overall marriage rate, marriage for love (a convenience of modernity), and birth control.

The median age of a first marriage has seen a steady increase over time as data by the Census Bureau illustrates. Waiting until later in life to marry doesn’t guarantee success, those getting married after experiencing the “real world” are better poised to navigate the difficult waters of marriage, and more likely to understand what they want and need in a mate.

Median age of first marriage 1890 - 2014

While the divorce rate is declining, so is the number of people getting married. Marriage rates peaked post-WW II, with 72.2% of households married in 1950. The percentage of American households married has only declined since. Compared with 1950, by 2012 only 50.5% of households were married.

Cohabitation prior to matrimony is also a contributing factor. Statistically, marriages following extended periods of cohabitation are more likely to result in divorce than those married without testing the living situation. It’s also true that a result of cohabitation is a relationship that ends in a breakup. The NYT explains:

Perhaps surprisingly, more permissive attitudes may also play a role. The fact that most people live together before marrying means that more ill-fated relationships end in breakups instead of divorce. And the growing acceptance of single-parent families has reduced the number of shotgun marriages, which were never the most stable of unions, notes Stephanie Coontz, a professor at Evergreen State College and author of “Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage.”

Not considered by any source I’ve found thus far, is that the increase in acceptance of divorce is arguably correlated with the fact that the children of the peak divorce era of the 70s and 80s, now adults themselves, have a different understanding of divorce and subsequently marriage as a result.

As Gallup pointed out, “the differences between men and women are mostly a matter of degree rather than of kind.”

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