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.

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  1. 101

    Perhaps it depends on what your the definition of “dying” is.   If someone’s idea of marriage dying is that less people (albeit just slightly less) are interested in marriage, then one could make the argument that it is dying.   If one’s idea of marriage being a dying institution means that marriage as we know it has taken a significant beating (i.e., there has been a major sea-change in people’s attitudes towards marriage that have, as a result, significantly altered Americans’ desire to marry), then marriage most definitely is not dying.  

  2. 102
    Sparkling Emerald

    I think people pointing to the high divorce rate as “proof” that marriage has gone out of fashion is rather silly.   That’s like pointing to the high obesity rates and saying that being slim is going out of style.   Most people want to be slim, or at least of average build.   The weight loss, &   fitness center businesses are booming.   The fact that people very often gain back the weight they once lost, isn’t proof that they never wanted to be slim. Any more than divorce is proof that the couple never wanted to be married.   It’s just proof that getting slim and STAYING slim is a challenge. As is staying married for the long haul.    And there is a fat acceptance movement, but over all, most people want a slim or average build body.   I accept people at all weights, and since I spent most of my childhood being teased for being too skinny, and now struggle to remain average, I understand that it is not always due to lack of “will power” but many other factors come into play. So while obesity may be on the rise, it’s not because people are consiously choosing it, it is because they are struggling with it.   (I don’t think it’s a complete lack of will power, genetically modified foods, an over abundance of cheap crap food, having to work longer hours to make ends meet leaving less time for physical activities, etc) all are contributing to this obesity epidemic.
       I also accept people at all relationship phases of their lives.   I have gay friends, never married friends, still married to their high school sweet-heart friends, multiple divorced friends, married but child free by choice friends.   I don’t judge them for their life style.   Even the ones who are unhappy (example, some of my never married gfs, are sad about this)   The only judgement that comes from me, is my GF’s who claim to want to be in a real relationship, then accept crap treatment from men who won’t commit.   And usually I just ask a few questions, rather than downright judge them, questions such as, “I recall you telling me you were tired of sex without commitment, what made you change your mind ?”.   Rather than me telling them what to do, I just remind them of what they really want, and how what they are doing isn’t in align with their stated relationship goals.  

  3. 103

    Tom T
    I think if you feel preached at and uncomfortable around married people, you might want to look at why.   If you feel happy and secure  in your current situation and decision to be single, there is nothing they can do to make you feel bad about it.
    I am unmarried with no children and I personally just don’t feel that way around married people.   I love my life and I only hope that other people can be as happy in theirs as I am in mine.   If someone were to try and suggest that another lifestyle choice would be better for me, I would laugh and forget about it the very next second.

  4. 104
    Tom T

    Clare:  Your tone is a little preachy there. So should I feel preached at or no?   

  5. 106

    Gosh Tom, do you feel preached at by everyone? 😉

  6. 107

    Seems we’re all in agreement here that while people are rushing to get married, we’re divorcing at ever greater rates. Karmic Equation was right in 102: getting married and staying married are two completely different things.
    So I have to wonder, what is the point of asking the question “Is marriage dying or just being reborn?”   If you define marriage as “thriving” just because people want to rush into it, that doesn’t mean that overall, society is better or happier.  In fact, it could be worse; bad marriages and divorces  are terribly painful processes for all involved. Therefore it isn’t necessarily a good thing in itself that marriage is staying alive, whatever that means.
    Fusee was right in 103 that what’s more important is how to make marriages stronger. That means entering marital relationships with your eyes open, and once you’re in a healthy marriage, working to keep it that way through a number of kindnesses and an attitude toward commitment. Living with another person for a long time is never easy. I think too many people rush into marriage looking at only the short term and not realizing that no matter how great a partner is, living with another is always a challenge. Hence the need for an attitude toward commitment.

  7. 108

    Hello! I’ve been a reader (on and off) for quite a few years… since my divorce in 2009, actually. Well, I’ve never been a poster but for some reason, I’m compelled to say something about this.
    To start, I’m 32-years-old, atheist, college graduate (I have a Master’s), and I’m also a person who’s marriage neutral. The thing about me is I’m more on the traditional feminine personality spectrum… I’m not aggressive, and not even assertive, and although I’m somewhat smart enough to have finished a thesis in my early 20s, I’m not ambitious nor career driven. I wished I put a ton of effort into “work” to make a “name” for myself, but that’s never been who I am.
    Anyway, I was married to my college sweetheart is pretty much my male counterpart. We met when we were both 18 through a student social network. I had a cartoon picture as my profile and he had an empty profile. We chatted for a few weeks and then exchanged pictures and met after class for coffee. Who would have known that the stars from the heavens above have exploded and we both felt like we found each after seeking for the love that we wanted all along… from a silly school website.
    I had met a self-professed hermit who’s mother was quite shocked that her son suddenly went out all the time with some girl he said is named Katie. A week after we had met, he said he wanted to marry me the moment he laid eyes on me. I thought that was sweet but didn’t take it seriously. We actually did get married when we were 23.
    We were together until we were 27 and separated, and by 28, we were divorced. We didn’t have children, but we talked about and had similar mentalities about children and family life…however, the breakdown of my marriage, is rather puzzling to me even many years after the fact. We got along great, and we made decent money together, we had a little apartment and our expenses were low.   I use to think that there was something totally wrong about me and needed to find out why loving marriage dissipated. I tried to put myself out in the “dating world” and found that my sensibilities aren’t suited for the so very harsh and emotionally damaging “hookup” mentality/culture, which really disheartened me. I was shocked to meet so many bitter who only wanted to have “FWB” and I was so bewildered and withdrew from the “singles scene” because it seemed like it’s the place for people who want to be single and stay single. I’ve never been a like that, and find it distasteful for people to treat sex as casual as discarding trash.  
    I was in limbo for a few years because I couldn’t really put myself out there to date, but I couldn’t really move pass my divorce.   At the end of it, around the time I turned 31, I acquiesced I should be grateful for having a really good relationship while it lasted, and although I’ve been lonely, I’ve learned to stand on my own and appreciate my freedoms (and the heavy responsibilities that goes with that).  
    I’ve come to realize that life is meant to be lived, and too much analysis takes away the mystery and adventure, and greatest pleasures there is to be had. Sometimes things happen pretty fast, and sometimes things happen painfully slow, but I think, marriage, just like anything else in life, eventually happens to most of us. I don’t know that means marriage is on the decline or upswing, I could care less, really. All I know is, bottom-line, I have one life to live, and I’m going to strive seek out my own happiness with myself.
    I guess to say is, marriage and relationships are so very personal and individual that there’s really no point in debating over numerical statistics of why something is or isn’t. I’ve racked my brain and emotional depth to find a rational answer to my divorce and I couldn’t. Humans aren’t machines and we aren’t a formula to be sorted out and branded, nor can we be truly stratified, despite so many labels that we encounter in our everyday lives. Although there’s quantifiably a lot of us, it doesn’t mean we’re going to be programmed the same and seek out the same things at the same time. My mother told me, “No matter how screwed the life is on the societal scale, somehow life goes on and things work out. And if things didn’t work work out, life would have ceased eons ago.”
    I’d like to think my 56-year-old mother knows what she’s talking about. So, regardless of what everyone else is doing, whether marriage a trend or not, what’s important is to decide for yourself, and not get so wrapped up defending your stance. Seriously, why do you need to explain your life choices? Are you trying to change society by touting your way is better or are you disappointed that society thinks poorly of you because your decisions do not reflect what is deemed acceptable? I suppose external validation goes a long way…

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