Is Marriage a Dying Institution? The Millennials Say…Maybe

Marriage.  The word itself is powerful.  So many ideals and expectations wrapped up in it.  For some marriage is their ultimate objective, their end all be all.  And for others a necessary evil.   No matter what the driving force for getting married the message used to be loud and clear “just do it.”  But after years of fewer Disney princesses and growing up with divorced parents, is marriage losing its appeal?  

More and more I hear things like “I may get married when the time is right.” or “I will get married if I meet the right person.”  And this is from men and women alike.  Of course I still run into traditional persons that have marriage as their center puzzle piece, but they seem to be disappearing at a substantial rate.  

Data also shows this phenomenon, especially for the Millennial Generation (or Generation Y) born from the early 1980’s to 2000.  As this group entered adulthood, the marriage rate declined considerably and continues to fall.  In a comprehensive Pew Research Center study, 1 in 5 adults over 25 had never been married compared with 1 in 10 in 1960.  The number of non-married individuals is now at a historic high!  And that is not all.  For the millennials that do aspire to marry, they are putting it off until later.   The average age of first marriage is now 27 for women and 29 for men, up from 20 and 23 respectively in 1960.  The years once spent forging ahead in a life as a unit are now ones of self-exploration and individuality.  It seems the message on marriage has shifted from “just do it” to “if you get around to it.”

So what is shaping this drastic change in behavior?  

Three major factors seem to be contributing to the movement of marriage delay and dismissal.

  1. Evolution of Societal Norms- Things have changed a lot over the last couple of decades.  What was once taboo and distasteful is now an everyday occurrence.  Some of the behaviors that have become commonplace in unmarried relationships are having sexual intercourse, living together, and having children.  The ability to partake in these experiences prior to marriage without judgment or disdain has led to a shift in the urgency to marry for exploration of these things.   
  2. The Wavering Economy- Due to the recent economic depression and slow upswing, many are facing monetary challenges.  With continued high unemployment rates, the unsettled housing market, and mounting student loan debts there are more financial pressures than ever.  These situations have led to reports of marriage delays as individuals want to be more financially stable when taking that walk down the aisle.
  3. Priority Shifts- When discussing the future with millennials, they are increasingly expressing ambitions they want to attain prior to getting married.  These include higher education, home ownership, self-identity, and career advancement.  This generation feels that an individual with a secure sense of self and stable career provide a higher likelihood of success in marriage, so they are striving to achieve these things prior to putting marriage on the table.

Even with the declining rates, 70 percent of millennials still report a desire to be married.  It appears they are just marrying in their own time and on their own terms.  Marriage continues to be the ultimate goal, but there are many adventures and accomplishments they are choosing to experience along the way!

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