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The Couple

submitted by The Times of Malta - September 23, 2007

The vast majority of the Maltese - 85.3% - believe that marriage is a permanent union that cannot be dissolved; 13.3% disagree, and 1.3% do not know. An even larger majority - 91.7% - believe that marriage should be exclusively between a man and a woman; 4% approve of same-sex marriages and 4.3% do not know.

These are some of the findings of the latest public opinion survey carried out by sociologist Mario Vassallo on behalf of The Sunday Times.

The survey was, as usual, carried out by telephone among 300 representative households in Malta and Gozo. It was held between August 14 and 30.

Those 13.3% who said that marriage need not be permanent were asked to give reasons why marriage can be dissolved. They spontaneously gave infidelity
(52.5%) and incompatibility (42.5%) as the two main reasons.

The reasons spontaneously given for marriage breakdown in Malta were:
financial issues (40%), the influence of the media (36%), the fact that wives go out to work (34.3%), lack of religious values (28.3%) and infidelity (24.7%).

On the other hand, respondents believed some marriages remain strong because of religious values (42.7%), reciprocal respect (39%), fidelity and true love (each 37.3%), quality time between the couple (27%) and the presence of children (24%).

A large part of the survey was devoted to whether Maltese couples are being adequately prepared for marriage.

Only 38.7%, in fact, believed that couples were preparing themselves well for marriage; 47.3% disagreed, while 14% did not know.

The Cana Movement's courses were considered necessary by an overwhelming 85.3%, and an even higher 90.7% disagreed that they are useless. However, a yet higher 94.7% considered them inadequate, in their present format, to prepare couples for marriage.

Respondents were also asked what the State and the Church could do to support stable marriages and strong families. What Government should do mainly, most respondents replied, is to provide more tax relief for families (55.3%), provide more child care centres (39.7%) and recognise that home caring should be compensated (36.3%).

As far as the Church is concerned, the Maltese think that it should provide more counselling services (51%) and more character-formation facilities (29%).

For over half the Maltese (53.3%), it is doubtful whether genuine sex equality exists in Maltese families; for 42.3% such equality existed very often.

Irrespective of whether or not they included the fact that wives go out to work among the reasons for marriage breakdown, all the respondents were asked whether this is true: 61.7% said that this does create problems for the family; 38.3% disagreed. Significantly, more women (62.5%) than men
(60.8%) believe that married women's employment threatens family stability.

The vast majority (71.4%) of those who hold this opinion believe that women should stay at home; the rest say that married women should be gainfully employed. Again, more women (73.7%) than men (68.9%) think that married women should stay at home.

The majority of respondents (52.3%) said that Maltese families are not giving enough importance to the need for time together to nurture communication between the couple; 58.6% of those who think so blame this lack on the need to work to be able to cope.

Finally, a large majority (82%) believe that having to repay house mortgages is contributing a lot to family breakdowns among Maltese couples.

Asked to comment, Professor Vassallo said: "The findings at first sight appear paradoxical because of, on the one hand, the widespread belief in the family as an institution, and, on the other, the recognition that breakdowns are real, and often caused by what one generally associates with socio-economic development, broadly understood.

"What seems to be happening is that the views on the family are being extensively moulded by the main currents of the post-modern world, which is in turn shaped by pluralism, democracy, religious freedom, consumerism, mobility, and increasing access to news and entertainment. People are thus able to see that there are many beliefs, multiple realities, and an exhilarating, if daunting, profusion of world views. Post-modern society has lost its faith in absolute truth and is one in which people have to choose what to believe.

"Many Maltese want their families to work, but if these do not, they move towards alternatives. Such are the pressures of modern living on the individual's need to communicate, and to love and be loved, that even the transience of structures like the family cannot, at times, not be seen as a search for meaning by individuals who see permanence as an important, but secondary value. Gone are the days when permanence prevails because of the stigma associated with separations.

"In this context the results of this study make sense. The Maltese recognise the need for a working and intimate cell in which their aspirations can thrive. They also recognise that the two major institutions in Maltese society - State and Church - must help this cell to live on.

"Significantly the expectations from State and Church are strongly differentiated in the minds of many Maltese. It is not surprising that both political and religious discourse is full of references to families and their needs, even as part of the current pre-electioneering process. It is indeed up to both State and Church to understand current needs, and rather than manipulate (for short-term gain or out of reference to social change) the profound needs each individual has, provide effective aids and solutions that, ultimately, address the very core of Maltese society," Professor Vassallo concluded.

The above article was published in The Times, September 23, 2007, Allied Newspapers Ltd, courtesy of timesofmalta.com


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