Family life declining,say many Americans

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    By JERRY GOWEN

    A Gallup Poll commissioned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints discloses that most Americans are happy with their own family life, but the large majority believe that the nation’s moral direction is worse than when they were growing up.

    Two-thirds of those surveyed believe families are less happy today than in the past.

    “It is an issue more than any other that is owned by our church. It is relevant to us because of the identification of our church with family,” said Elder Marlin K. Jensen, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy and spokesman for the church on the survey. “I think overall, the results of the poll are surprisingly optimistic.”

    Elder Jensen said the church commissioned the survey because of its deep feelings for families.

    “We have a feeling that maybe the church, of all the organizations in the world today, has something meaningful to say about the family. Our desire to know the state of the family and what concerns are out there is why this study was commissioned,” Elder Jensen said.

    According to the survey of more than 1,000 American adults released in December, 73 percent of Americans say they are happy with their family lives. Seventy-nine percent describe their families as extremely or very close. In addition, those with children spend about four hours a day with them — about equal to what their parents spent with them.

    “These are the people we don’t read about every day,” said Harold Brown, a member of the church quoted by the survey. “This is a country with good people who care and want to do the right thing. Their families are very important.”

    “We were surprised that people are as satisfied and happy with their family life as they appear to be,” Elder Jensen said. “It confirmed our own feelings that the two chief challenges that people face are finances and having time together, which are closely linked.”

    Elder Jensen said that it is hard to have family time if parents are working, but results from the survey were positive.

    “America continues to be a family oriented society in many respects. They generally desire and work towards having strong families,” said Alan Hawkins, director of the Center for Studies on Family at BYU. “I’m not surprised that people say they enjoy their family lives.”

    Hawkins said there are many reports in the media about the challenges that families face, which will impact how people view society.

    “This is an area where little things bring great things to pass. You think Family Home Evening is a little thing, but you do that persistently and consistently for 20 years and you have a much different family than if you don’t do it,” Elder Jensen said. “The same thing occurs with family prayer and eating meals together.”

    Other findings of the survey paint a darker picture. Though most said their own family-life is good, 66 percent believe other families are less happy today than when they were kids growing up, and 62 percent say life for kids is generally worse than it was when they were children.

    Frank Newport, editor in chief for Gallup Polls, said it is a phenomenon of polling that people are more positive when you ask them about something they have personal experience with.

    When speaking of the news, most people are pessimistic. But when asked about their own lives, they’re more optimistic. “The good news is when they reflect on their own lives, they are pretty positive,” Newport said.

    The poll also showed that Americans worry about where the nation is headed. Seventy-six percent say America’s moral direction is worse now than when they were kids.

    A majority of those polled said the greatest problems families face today are ethical dilemmas, unemployment and finances. Americans said the problems kids face most are drug and alcohol abuse, and coping with peer pressure.

    Many optimists claim a link between families and performance in society. Eighty-nine percent said there is a direct link between families and society’s performance.

    Those optimists also point to poll results on religion. Sixty-one percent say religion is either extremely or very important in their own lives. Another 24 percent say it is fairly important.

    In addition, more than nine in every 10 adults say they have a Bible or other scriptures in their households. Among those who have scriptures, one in five say they read the scriptures daily or more, and five out of 10 surveyed said that their family had attended religious services within seven days of the interview.

    Elder Jensen was happy that two-thirds of Americans say they eat at least one meal a day as a family.

    “I see that in our own family. Going home and sitting with your family and talking about the day and the issues — just the things you do at a more leisurely meal — makes a difference,” Elder Jensen said. “The binding and strength that come to a family from that cannot be measured.”

    Some of the results of the poll were published in an article entitled “Families say their own lives are good but believe others’ are not,” in USA Today on Dec. 18, 1996.

    “This poll points out that the very simple way of life that our church advocates for families is very valid and will provide the basis for a happy family and functional family. At the root is what is going to help the family in the long run,” Elder Jensen said.

    He also said the survey confirmed what the church had previously believed.

    “We have something to say and share with people of other faiths,” Elder Jensen said. “There is a vague notion that families are not as happy, and also that the nation’s moral direction is wrong and worse than when current parents were children. I suppose that is maybe the down side of the survey.”

    Elder Jensen said a tentative world conference on families sponsored by the church will probably be held in early 1998, possibly at BYU.

    “It is just in the discussion stage. It is an issue the church kind of owns and has something to say about,” Elder Jensen said. “The other use for the survey is in the construction of our own curriculum in the leadership and direction that the brethren will give to the church. This will be very useful information.”

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