All in the Family

A comprehensive new report reveals seismic shifts in the way we view marriage and family — and what they mean for America's future

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"Marriage is a wonderful institution," Groucho Marx once observed, "but who wants to live in an institution?" Well, for the past few centuries, most people seemed to. But in recent decades, this institution that is so central to the human experience has changed in dramatic ways. Yes, more people are getting married later, but in a switch that reflects a more radical change, the wealthier and more educated you are, the more likely you are to marry. There is a growing marriage gap between the well-to-do and the less well off that reflects larger trends of income inequality. One question to ponder: Do such changes weaken the social fabric, or are new and evolving definitions of family making a more vibrant and diverse society?

Our cover story on marriage is a collaboration with the Pew Research Center in Washington. In my experience, Pew does some of the most interesting and important research anywhere on the cultural shifts in our everyday lives. Back in May, TIME executive editor Nancy Gibbs and assistant managing editor Radhika Jones met with Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew Research Center, and his amazing team to discuss not just the shift in attitudes toward marriage but also evolving notions of what constitutes family in our society. The full Pew report, The Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families, draws on half a century of census data to track changes in family structure. You can read the whole thing at pewsocialtrends.org/family. We decided to focus on the state of our unions. The cover story, which synthesizes much of that research, was written by editor-at-large Belinda Luscombe, who covers relationships in her Committed column, which you can find at healthland.time.com.

Normally, we don't announce our cover story one week ahead of time, but next week we're doing something extraordinary: we're creating a special issue we call TimeFrames, in which we revisit the biggest stories of the past decade and discover what, if anything, we've learned. The first decade of the 21st century comes to an end in December, and we are using that signpost as an opportunity to analyze how the world has changed. From the 2000 presidential election through Katrina to the latest in social media, the planet looks like a very different place than it did 10 years ago. The project gives us the chance to move away from the hit-and-run journalism that has so often characterized the past decade to something more enduring. To that end, we have worked with our partner CNN to produce a one-hour TV show called TIMEFrames, which will be hosted by John King. There's a lot more to come next week.