Is Marriage Dying Or Just Being Reborn?

Bride and groom

There’s been far too much blather about the death of marriage. It’s true that there a more single people than ever before. It’s true that equality in the workplace has negated the financial need for women to find husbands. It’s true that the stigma of being single has gone way down since the ’60’s.

Yet the vast majority of people eventually get married – just at a different pace than before. According to my favorite expert on this subject, Stephanie Coontz, “Today the average age of first marriage is almost 27 for women and 29 for men, and the range of ages at first marriage is much more spread out. In 1960, fewer than 8 percent of women and only 13 percent of men married for the first time at age 30 or older, compared with almost a third of all women and more than 40 percent of all men today. Most Americans still marry eventually, and they continue to hold marriage in high regard.”

There’s been far too much blather about the death of marriage.

All the talk about smart, strong, successful women pricing themselves out of the market? Also untrue. “New research by the sociologist Leslie McCall reveals that while marriage rates have fallen for most women since 1980, those for the highest earning women have increased, to 64 percent in 2010 from 58 percent in 1980. Women in the top 15 percent of earners are now more likely to be married than their lower-earning counterparts.”

It’s no surprise to me. With education and upward mobility comes self-esteem, more options, and better decision making. A woman making $100K is less likely to marry a bad man simply for stability than a woman who has no education and two kids out of wedlock.

Finally, the old statistic that living together hurts your prospects of marriage? It’s history – at least for professional women.

“Two-thirds of couples who marry today are already living together. For most of the 20th century, couples who lived together before marriage had a greater chance of divorce than those who entered directly into marriage. But when the demographer Wendy Manning and her colleagues looked at couples married since 1996, they found that this older association no longer prevailed. For couples married since the mid-1990s, cohabitation before marriage is not associated with an elevated risk of marital dissolution.”

Any suggestion that marriage is a dying institution or a recipe for failure is based on your own experience, not on the actual facts.

As always, if you don’t want to get married and you’d rather be single, that’s your business. But any suggestion that marriage is a dying institution or a recipe for failure is based on your own experience, not on the actual facts.

Click here to read the article and share your thoughts on marriage below. Do you believe in the institution?

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  1. 1
    Jackie H.

    I’m getting married for the first time at 39 years old 9 days from today…older brides/grooms are where it’s at….

  2. 2

       I was married once have no desire to be married again.   IMO marriage will continue to exist there are financial benefits to being married and for those who want to reproduce/build wealth it makes sense.   Some need the legal security that marriage offers.  
    I was reading something about the marriage rate being the lowest it’s been in many years.   This seems like a good thing to me fewer marriages/fewer divorces.

  3. 3

    These quotes do not really provide any evidence that marriage is not on the decline.   To play Devil’s Advocate:   simply showing that people get married later in life, that the highest-earning women are more likely to be married, and that folks living together before marriage are no longer more likely to get divorced doesn’t speak to the overall rate of marriage.   
    It is interesting that the highest-earning women are more likely to be married, though.   However, one must always get behind the numbers when statistics are presented.   For instance, it’s worth considering how old the highest-earning women were in 1980 compared to today.   It is possible that they were much younger then than today because the generations of women prior to the generation that worked back then were largely homemakers.   The highest-earning women today are more likely to be over 40, and therefore, more likely to be married.
    Something to consider.

  4. 4
    Tom T

    I think it’s on the way out. Seems to be the trend. A hundred years ago you had to be married, no matter how you felt. Then you had to be married, but you also had to be in love. Then you probably would get married, but you wouldn’t stay if you weren’t in love or if it was bad. Then you didn’t have to get married, you could just be in love. And now there is active antipathy toward marriage, or just not caring about it at all. I doubt there’s going to be a big resurgence of marriage socially. I can’t imagine what would drive such a trend reversal.
    Most of the teenagers and 20 year-olds I know aren’t really into coupling up the way my parents were. As time goes on they’ll have to figure out whether marriage is a viable and sustainable institution for the world they live in. One of the kids I mentor (14 yr old) is talking about living to be 150. Whether this will happen or not, this is the concept that informs his future. His mom, on the other hand,  is  talking about how he’s going to be married and a dad in his 20s. This is a concept that informed her past.
    I very much doubt that he’s dreaming about being married to the same woman for 120+ years. A major disconnect between the generations there.

  5. 5

    I don’t necessarily think marriage is dying, I think the change indicates that our society’s values are changing.   Marriage used to be the norm and now we realize we have other   – either delaying or forgoing marriage altogether.   
    I’m one of those high earners, now in my mid 30’s.   Have always wanted to get married and still hope for that but at the same time I realize that my relationship status is not necessarily something that has to define me.   
    Make no mistake though, it seems most of us would still like to be married.   Gay marriage became legal today in my state and many loving couples are lining up to get married.   The ability to have that legal union is still very important for them.    Maybe the some of the rest of us have been taking that for granted?  

  6. 6
    Girl in the Midwest

    I read somewhere that marriage is actually increasing the inequality in America.   Since the educated tend to stay married, they accrue even more wealth.   But the uneducated tend to have a higher divorce rate, so they have even lower income (relatively to before).   It’s those from the lower SES who should be getting married and staying married, they’d benefit from marriage a lot.
    Myself, I will probably get married, though this is due to my personality more than anything else.   It makes me a little sad that we spend more of our adult lives not being married (though this doesn’t necessarily mean we’re not partnered up).   Makes me think there’s a lot of lonely people out there.   

  7. 7
    Brandon B

    I’ve never noticed anything resembling a decline in the rate or interest in marriage. In fact, most of the women in my life (family, friends, and relationship partners) seem to have the same sort of idea that Girl In The Midwest expressed above; for some reason not being married equates to loneliness. The judgment of a woman’s success in life (and to a lesser extent, a man’s success) still seems very much tied to marital status.  For evidence, I submit the popularity of the swath of wedding related shows, some of which Google tells me are in their 10th season: A Wedding Story, Say Yes to the Dress, Bridezillas, Engaged and Underage, etc. I should also include the popularity of wedding-related internet boards like Wedding Bee and OffBeat Bride.

  8. 8

    I agree with [email protected] Marriage is never going to go away. People will always want to connect with someone. I know so many people who have been divorced and remarry right away, like within 5 years or sooner. And I am still waiting to get married once! I don’t know how these people who manage to get married once do it when I can’t seem to do it. I guess I am more particular and able to tolerate being independent because I don’t want to be that person that remarries. I want to find the right partner and that’s it. I know one person who is just a year older then me and has already been married 3 times and she is only 35. Hopefully 3 is a charm for her.
    I think on some level I feel I am not quite whole unless I am married. Probably more so the message our society sends us women. Definitely a woman’s value goes up if she is married. She is automatically seen as more responsible, especially if she has kids. But not being married and having kids doesn’t mean you aren’t responsible or have the capacity to sacrifice. People just perceive you differently whether you have kids and are married vs single. They think we always have fun but it’s not easy being on your own and having to do everything on your own resources.

  9. 9

    Interesting question!
    I do not think that statistics can predict future trends because the institution of marriage is rapidly changing in the USA, and I predict that alternatives are progressively going to be created and give similar rights. So who know what’s going to happen?
    I’m originally from a Europeean country where marriage seems to be losing in favor of cohabitations or domestic partnerships. My cousins and friends living there are not getting married. The main reason is that marriage does not offer that much more benefit whereas the divorce rate scares never-married people. In my country of origin, everyone gets free health care, you can visit your partner in the hospital, banks would give you mortgages even if you are not married, and custody laws will not penalize unmarried couples.
    If I had stayed in my country and partnered up with a compratriot, I would not have been that attached in entering a marriage. A public declaration of life-long commitment would have been sufficient for me to take that serious step in the relationship. However, living in the USA and knowing that I had 99% chances of ending up with someone of a different citizenship made me very attached in involving the state in the process of entering a life-long commitment.
    1. Having the possibility of adding the spouse to a health insurance plan.
    2. The right to visit the spouse at the hospital.
    3. Benefits for the spouse in my home country in case of relocation.
    4. Legal recognition of joint finances
    So basically I do not “believe” in the institution of marriage. I do not think it makes relationships stronger. It’s character, compatibility, and commitment that make relationships work. Therefore my opinion about marriage depends on where the marriage would be contracted (local laws) and what stage of life I would be in. Being in the USA and in my thirties, I’m all for it, but if I had been in another country and/or a later stage in life, I would have made a very different choice.
    However I would never had ended in one of those undefined long-term cohabitation where it’s the mortgage or the baby that “symbolize” the commitment. I would still have wanted to receive a personal statement of intent. Promises to the bank or to the kid would not do it for me : )

    1. 9.1

      That sounds like marriage to me.

  10. 10

    Marriage as a state registered partnership may be in decline but there are plenty of unregistered partnerships that endure.   In the UK, about half of births are to unmarried mothers but in the great majority of cases, the father registers the birth.   Social security in the UK discourages marriage and cohabitation.   This has weakened marriage amongst the generality of the poor and their middle class emulators.

  11. 11

    I think it’s changing and although the trend seems to be that marriage is dying I think it will come back.   I’ll tell you my experience.
    In my 20’s and early 30’s I had a hard time dating.   I’m above average in looks.   College educated.   Earn a good living.   But the type of women I wanted to be with had options.   Can’t blame them for taking advantage and not ‘settling’ with me.
    Now just hitting 40.   I can tell you.   From about mid 30’s things have completely reversed.   It’s easier and easier to date the type of women I’m attracted to.   And  therein lies the dilemma.   Until I find someone that blows my mind or I notice dating NOT becoming easier each year.   I don’t find the urgency to marry anymore.   I don’t blame the women years ago for not ‘settling’ with me.   I don’t see why I need to settle when things are constantly IMPROVING on my end.
    But the power, for a long time, was with women.   I think stories like mine if they become common will just mean women will prioritize marriage and not put it off so long and expect men to just be there when they are ready.(Especially when all the sudden dating is becoming easier for the type of men they want.)   And when that happens marriage will start to pick back up.

  12. 12

    @ Morris
    Your experience sounds pretty superficial…..

  13. 13

    Forgot to mention, it’s also worth noting that an increasing number of men, particularly young men, are avoiding marriage because they see it as taking a huge risk without any benefits.

  14. 14
    Brandon B

    @Chance 13: Where are you getting the idea that an “increasing number” of men are avoiding marriage because of perceived risk? We’ve known about the risk/reward ratio for some time now.
    @Morris 11: Since you’re being accused of having a “superficial” experience, I’ll step in and say that I had a very similar experience, except the turn came right around 30 for me. Dating was incredibly difficult in my 20s  and all of the power was with the women who were choosing men who weren’t long term material (IMO).    But right at 30 — as the first wave of divorces were getting finalized, and the PhD’s started graduating and getting a foothold in the workplace, and as women tired of play-dating idiots finally decided to take things seriously — my dating stock jumped exponentially. As a well-educated nice guy with a good job, I was, for the first time in my life, in shockingly  high demand.  
    When that reversal happened, I almost immediately found the love of my life (…it works people), which was a huge blessing, but a little bit of a curse as well. I never  had much time to go out there and “play the field”  like I would have wanted to. And as you said, things were constantly improving on my end, with me dating women who wouldn’t even glance at me 5 years earlier.
    So although I think that experience is more common than some people, like Michelle, would believe, I don’t think it speaks much to  whether men  desire marriage any more or less. Sure, some will be jaded, kinda like Morris, and will  resist settling down partially because of it. But others, like me,  might be jaded but will  still view marriage as a good goal and won’t shy away from the perfect partner, even though it will cut short  their  time to shine on the dating scene.

  15. 15

    It’s   true that one’s thirties and forties can be very good times for dating,   We stil look good, we’re financially stable, we’re more confident. However, I would caution that it’s a also a very good time to at least consider something more permanent. Time flies so quickly once we’re in our early forties.
    I know there’s a belief that it may be different for men, but I don’t see or hear from lots of men in their fifties saying what a wonderful time they are having casually dating.
    Of course we can find love at all ages but if I could have a do over I would think more long term at the age you are now.   It may be better to marry before it becomes urgent! Not to say we should rush, that never helps,but it’s good to have intentionaility I think.

  16. 16

    Chance @13. There is loads of data that show that men benefit far more from marriage then women so it would not make sense for a man to not get married. Get regular sex, partnership, a maid (since most women end up doing all the work) and reduced expenses. It’s a win for men.

    1. 16.1

      @ Paula, that is total BS.


      Women aren’t supporting men, paying alimony, child support, and being incarcerated.

      There are about 2 million divorces a year in the USA alone.   At least 1.5 million are initiated by the women, so you’re left with 1.5 million men getting obliterated financially and emotionally, annually.



  17. 17
    Karl R

    Paula said: (#16)
    “There is loads of data that show that men benefit far more from marriage then women so it would not make sense for a man to not get married. Get regular sex, partnership, a maid (since most women end up doing all the work) and reduced expenses.”
    If you’re going to say that men get more benefits than women, then you need to look at the benefits that both receive:
    Regular sex: Husbands and wives and both receive that benefit equally (unless you’re trying to argue that women don’t see that as a benefit).
    Partnership: Husbands and wives both receive that benefit equally.
    Reduced expenses: One party will typically benefit more than the other from this arrangement. In my marriage, my wife saw a much greater reduction in expenses than I did. Do you have evidence that shows that men’s reduced expenses exceed women’s reduced expenses on average?
    A maid: Based on the studies I’ve seen, women end up doing more work than their husbands, but not all of it. I haven’t seen any study that compares the housework/yardwork men/women did as singles to the work they do as a couple. (As a bachelor, I was able to tolerate a far messier living environment than my wife can.)
    Health: On average, marriage increases a man’s health. Women receive only a tiny health benefit.
    Parenting: If a person wishes to be a stay-at-home parent, that practically requires someone (typically a spouse) to provide financial support. This is more frequently a goal for women than men. There are certainly exceptions. In either case, the benefit goes to the person who has that goal.
    More importantly, marriage isn’t a competition. I didn’t decide to marry my wife because I was going to benefit more than her. (I’m not sure I will.) I decided to marry her because I wanted to, and because it was to my benefit. Unless she also sees a benefit from our marriage, our marriage is unlikely to last.

  18. 18

    I think that every state that passes gay marriage and there are lines of couples waiting to get married the next morning proves that marriage endures, it’s still desirable for most Americans.  

  19. 19
    Tom T

    Marriage may be a win for men in terms of so-called services described in #16 (if you get them), but divorce isn’t. If marriage is merely a business deal it’s far easier and less complicated just to have  a regular lover for sex, buddies for partnership, and a maid for housekeeping. I think most men can manage these kinds of relationships. No need for a “full-service” woman.
    Of course, some of us don’t see relationships as transactions.

  20. 20

    @Brandon B

    You’re right, men have known about the risk-reward ratio for some time.   However, in the past, they still got married (at a much higher rate).   I’m getting my idea from what I witness in life:   more men do not want to get married (myself being one of them), especially younger men.   That doesn’t mean that most men don’t want to get married, and for the ones that do, more power to them.
    1.). What are your sources?   2.). All of the benefits that you described can be enjoyed within a loving, committed LTR.   You don’t need to be married for that.   Also, it’s far from a sure bet that you’ll enjoy those things while being married.   In fact, many would argue that those benefits decrease and/or disappear when you get married.   3.). I’ve seen marriages where women did all the work, marriages where men did all the work, and marriages where the man and woman were equal partners.   You must be around a lot of really awful men… or you could just be seeing things from only your perspective.   4.). How is having a maid a benefit?   I think most men just want a partner.   Besides, that would be one hell of an expensive maid.

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