I just discovered another reason to thank my late parents for what they did for us. Ed and Betty, thanks for having nine kids. According to a new study, people who grew up in large families are more likely to get married and stay married, than those who didn’t. The survey showed that for each additional sibling, there’s a two-percent decline in the odds of being divorced. Thanks to my folks’ fertility, my risk of divorce was cut by 18 percent.
The results of this study make perfect sense. Of course, kids from big families are more likely to marry – they’re dying to get out of the house. It also stands to reason they celebrate more anniversaries. Brothers and sisters have a way of rubbing off the rough edges of your personality.
My parents were also abrasive and wouldn’t tolerate prima donna behavior. My older brothers and sisters bossed me around, while the younger ones had their own set of demands. Being a middle child qualifies you for the diplomatic corp. You quickly learn the art of compromise.
We also learned to share bedrooms, clothes, baths, backseats and pillows. Not to mention some forced “sharing,” like when a high-ranking sibling demanded a bite of your ice-cream bar. You might also discover your toothbrush was mysteriously wet in the morning. There was no way to become a germaphobe in this environment.
All of this forced togetherness and absence of boundaries can prepare you for almost any living arrangement, including marriage. There were divorces, of course. I saw firsthand how miserable that lifestyle looked. My father would say, “If divorce meant your spouse disappeared from the face of the Earth, it would be great. Unfortunately, you still have a relationship.”
As beneficial as big families can be, they are in sharp decline. According to the latest census, the American family is shrinking fast. The number of “Leave it to Beaver” families with two married parents and children has dropped to an historic low, 20 percent. At the same time, the percentage of people living alone has grown to 28 percent. If you combine that number with the 29 percent of childless couples, you have 57 percent of American homes without the pitter-patter of tiny feet.
Forest Park’s percentage of married with children households is 27 percent, slightly higher than the national average. However, our average family size is 2.8, not exactly “The Brady Bunch.” The reasons for the shrinkage of American families are obvious. The marriage rate is down, people are waiting longer to get married and, thanks to the economy, big broods have become unaffordable.
So, back when I was longing to get my own bedroom, bike and bath towel, I didn’t realize the deprivation was character-building. It has helped me appreciate marriage for the past 33 years. Sure, it got a little stressful when we had little kids but at least no one used my toothbrush.