Is marriage becoming obsolete?
Are traditional marriages a thing of the past?
If you take a look at current pop culture trends, you'll see that we're actually more in love with relationships than ever before. Ratings for TV shows like The Bachelor, Say Yes to the Dress, and Modern Family show that our love for relationships of every variety is going strong. We're just less committed to how we make them happen and who gets to participate in the process. "If marriage is viewed as increasingly obsolete, it's because we're appreciating a wider range of options," says Brian Powell, Professor of Sociology at Indiana University and coauthor of Counted Out: Same Sex Relations and Americans' Definitions of Family. "This doesn't indicate a vote against marriage; more likely, it's a vote for the diversity of family forms out there, even those without the legal imprimatur of marriage."
But what does this all mean for the millions out there dating and relating?
1. Ninety-five percent of younger respondents say I "still" do to marriage
Despite the rising figures for cohabitation and divorce, the new study shows that 44 percent of Americans under 30 believe marriage is heading for extinction, while only five percent of respondents in that same age group don't want to get hitched. So, how do you wrap your mind around these two seemingly contradictory findings? Most Americans today take the marital relationship more seriously than ever before, expecting more intimacy, fairness and mutual respect.
2. There's a difference between "needing" and "wanting" to be married
We still want to get married, obviously… but maybe the bigger implication from the Pew Center's survey is that we just don't need it as much as we once did. In purely practical terms, marriage today is not like it was for previous generations. Socially, spiritually and symbolically, how we view it has changed greatly, and that factors into the results. "The truth is that we no longer feel that the marital institution is essential for [someone's] social respectability or personal well-being. For the most part, that's good news for singles. It means you can take your time making up your mind about whether or not you want to marry without being stigmatized the way singles were back in the 1960s. And the longer you take, the better your chances of forming a lasting partnership.
3. When it comes to marriage views, money and education matter
Marriage remains the norm for adults with college educations and good incomes, but it's now markedly less prevalent among poorer and less educated individuals. Why? It turns out we are much more into getting married if we can afford it and maybe that's a sign of the times. Getting married during a recession means not only considering whether you have enough money for the wedding and other associated costs, but also any concerns you might have about taking on a spouse's debt. The survey found that people whose education ended with a high school diploma (or less) are just as likely to say they'd like to marry as those with college degrees, but the first group placed a higher premium on financial stability as one of the most important reasons to do so than the latter did (38 percent versus 21 percent, respectively).
4. We're waiting longer to get hitched, but what's so bad about that?
Census data shows that young people are waiting to marry until they're a few years older nowadays. The median age for first marriages in the U.S. is at its highest point ever. For women, it's 26.1 years of age, and for men, it's 28.2. On top of that, for the first time in half a century, unmarried people between the ages of 25 and 34 outnumber their married counterparts in the same age range. But here's good news for all the twenty-somethings who feel like they're never going to meet the right mate and settle down: younger people are waiting until they're better educated, better off financially, and more mature first. They've seen their parents' generation divorce at unprecedented rates (approximately 50 percent), and frankly, they don't want that to happen to them. Maybe they just want to get it right by taking their time, and if you ask me, that's cause for celebration. It actually shows reverence for marriage, not disdain.
5. Being in a less traditional relationship does not equal less happiness
Everyone talks about the "good old days." In marriage terms, we think of role models such as Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, who were the perfect 1950s couple. Here's a wild notion implied by the research: maybe couples today are actually happier. Yes, there've been dramatic changes to the way couples live now - for example, more cohabitation vs. marriage - but it's clear that the importance of family still remains strong. Seventy-six percent of adults claim that their family is the most important thing to them (regardless of how it's structured), 75 percent say they are "very satisfied" with their family life, and more than eight in 10 say the family they live in now is as close as (45 percent) or closer than (40 percent) the family in which they were raised. More than half of the people living with someone (as opposed to being married) report that they have a better relationship with their romantic partners than their parents did when they were growing up. Marriage might be viewed as an increasingly obsolete tradition, but it's clear that marriage, relationships and family are ultimately still quite satisfying.
6. Feelings about marriage are relative
It's hard to evaluate the findings of this survey without assessing the role that timing plays in shaping people's views. Maybe people are just more cynical in general these days. Consider how the study's marriage findings compare with other key areas of life: more Americans (67 percent) remain optimistic about marriage than about the educational system (50 percent), economy (46 percent) or human morality (41 percent). Think about that for a minute; it means we're actually more upbeat about marriage than we are about our chances of educating our kids, making a decent living, or being a good person. When it comes to love, obsolescence is clearly in the eye of the beholder. Based on this research, I'd say there's plenty of validation and support for singles looking to create meaningful relationships on their own terms - including, but not limited to, the ever-revered tradition of marriage.
For more information: www.healthefamily.com