Tough economic times are deterring some Americans from deciding to marry although a deflated economy is not preventing prevalent optimism for the family unit, a new report released on Thursday said.

Americans are suspended between acceptance and unease about the changes in family trends with marriage still considered a norm for adults with a college education and a good job. But, marriage is “markedly less prevalent” among people at the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder, according to a new Pew Research Center study based on the views of about 2,700 people.

The report titled The Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families said people at the lower end of American society want to be financially secure before they walk down the aisle and are as likely as others to want to marry.

The survey, which is based on Census Bureau data also brought to the fore striking differences from one generation to another. In 1960, 68 percent of people in their 20s were married, while nearly 50 years later, in 2008, only about 26 percent of these young adults had tied the knot.

The study also revealed a shrinking percentage of adults who are married (52 percent in 2008, compared to 72 percent in 1960), and college graduates (64 percent) are significantly more likely to marry than those whose highest degree is a high school diploma or lower (48 percent).

Views about constitutes a family, women in the workplace, cohabiting, alternative family forms (same-sex couples), unwed childbearing and reasons for marrying were captured through telephone interviews with 2,691 adults in October. Factors including age, class, race, sex, religion, marital and family circumstance mattered in whether a respondent welcomed or disapproved of a change.

The survey, which has an error margin of 2.6 percentage points, also oversampled three key groups: divorced or separated parents of minor children, cohabiting parents of minor children, and unmarried parents of minor children who are not living with anyone.

However, the report found that despite five decades of shifting trends and recasting of what constitutes family, Americans remain strongly attached to family life as 76 percent of those surveyed said family was the most important element in their lives.

The study also showed 67 percent of the Americans were more positive about the joint institutions of marriage and family than the nation’s education system (50 percent) or its economy (46 percent).

The Pew report done in association with Time magazine as part of its social and demographics trends project concluded that a sense of obligation to family members and relatives, even of those the non-nuclear variety took precedence over friendships and that Americans are obligated towards relatives by way of fractured marriages.

Eighty three percent of the respondents expressed an obligation to help out a parent, 77 percent felt obliged towards helping a grown child, 55 percent said the same about a stepparent, 43 percent expressed an obligated to help a step or half sibling. Just about 39 percent of them felt they would be obligated to their best friend.

Family Research Council has responded to the Pew Research Center’s study.

“According to the study, only five percent of Americans under age 30 do not plan on marrying. This doesn't sound like 'the end of marriage,' as some are claiming the survey indicates. There's certainly reason for concern about some trends – such as the increase in the percentage of births that occur out of wedlock from five percent in 1960 to 41 percent in 2008, ” said Tony Perkins, president of FRC.

He also said that some interpretations of the data expressed in the media were distorted.

Perkins said a decline in the percentage of adults who are married is largely because people delay marriage, not because young men and women are foregoing marriage completely.

Two-thirds of Americans are 'optimistic' about the institutions of marriage and the family. Far fewer say that about schools, the economy, or 'morals and ethics.' It's not surprising that most people consider single parents or cohabiting couples who are raising their own children to be 'families’, he said.

 “The question is whether they are the kind of families we should seek or, as a society, should foster and encourage. If a couple is not raising children, Americans are still five times more likely to declare them not to be a family if they are a same-sex or cohabiting couple than if they are married,” Perkins said.

The research is still clear – married husbands and wives, and their children, are happier, healthier, and more prosperous than people in any other household setting,” he said in a statement.