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Children Are Less Important to a Happy Marriage Than They Were 20 Years Ago

First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage. The End.

When Carrie Bradshaw tells a fan in Sex and the City 2 that she and Big don't plan to have kids, the horrified, currently pregnant woman spurts, "Just you two?!" To her, the thought that a couple could grow old together without the delight and distraction of children seems unfathomable. But when it comes to Carrie and Big's choice, it's not just those two.

Over the past two decades, the idea that children are essential to a happy marriage has been fading. At the same time, we're witnessing a decline in "child-centeredness," both in relationships and in American society in general, according to a 2008 report from Rutgers marriage researcher Barbara Dafoe Whitehead.

Whereas marriage used to mean children — why marry if not to make a family? — that link is weakening in recent years. Here's why.

Not only are more unmarried couples having children, but at the same time, fewer couples now consider children an essential part of a happy marriage. Writes Whitehead:

As recently as 1990, a clear majority—65 percent—of the public said that "children are very important to a successful marriage." By 2007, according to a recent Pew survey, only slightly more than forty percent of respondents agreed with the statement."

Factors deemed more important to a happy marriage than kids include faithfulness, a good sexual relationship, and sharing of household chores. The idea of what Whitehead calls a "soul-mate marriage" means more focus on the couple and a less child-centered relationship. For couples without children, maintaining a happy, fulfilling relationship often takes more care and attention.

Having just spent an exhausting weekend with a very adorable and very precocious two year old, I can understand the appeal of an adult-centered marriage. However, if a couple wants to focus more on themselves than on the kids, why even bring children into the mix? Is it the fear of waking up at age 50 and suddenly feeling like "just you two" isn't enough? Where do you stand on the issue?

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