The month of February is often associated with love and of course Valentine’s Day. It is natural to focus on marriage and relationships at this time. The romance and sentiment of this time is special and it is helpful to have fun and enjoy the special significance of this holiday to celebrate love. However, in November of 2010 a rather startling survey by the Pew Research Center suggested a sobering poll about Americans view of marriage where nearly 40% of Americans stated that marriage is becoming obsolete (up from 28% in 1978). The poll caused a flurry of articles and more than a little concern and sadness among couples and marriage therapists.
The TIME/Pew poll was also interesting in its contradictions. While 40% believed marriage is becoming obsolete; only 25% of the unmarried stated they do not want to get married; and among currently married, 80% said their marriage is as close as or closer than their parents’ marriage.
The poll suggests that marriage is respected and desired, but is no longer the social and economic necessity it once was. It is possible and many would argue completely acceptable to develop a full and successful life outside of marriage.
In the 1950s, when half of all American women were already married in their teens, marriage was an almost mandatory first step toward adulthood. During this time, marriage was the path to parenthood, and unmarried men were routinely judged less qualified for bank loans or job promotions. The view of marriage has shifted to less on sacrifice and obligation than to romance, and happiness. Getting married for life, having children and raising them with your spouse is still the ideal for most Americans but acceptance of the alternative paths has grown.
Today, however, there are other paths to grow up, seek financial independence, parent children, and have intimate companionship. Johns Hopkins University sociologist Andrew Cherlin states: “Marriage is still very important in this country, but it doesn’t dominate family life like it used to. Now there are several ways to have a successful family life, and more people accept them.”“The college-educated wait until they’re finished with their education and the careers are launched. The less educated wait until they feel comfortable financially.” With the recession and the challenging economy job opportunities are disappearing so some wait to get married. But they don’t wait to set up house. There was a 13% increase in couples living together from 2009 to 2010. People are living together because they don’t have enough money to live alone, but they aren’t going to get married until they have enough money. For most college-educated couples, living together is a prelude to marriage. Those without a college degree tend to move in together, have children, and then look at marriage.
It is unclear whether the burdens of poverty are making people’s relationships less permanent or people’s impermanent relationships are worsening their poverty.
Moving directly into marriage from childhood is no long expected and the expectations of marriage have changed. Couples are more focused on having a higher quality marriage and in fact the divorce rates have been falling for the past 25 years.
Americans value family. 76% say family is the most important, meaningful part of their life. 75% say they are “very satisfied” with their family life. And 85% say that the family they live in today is as close or closer than the family in which they grew up.
Economic instability is now more closely associated with marital distress than it used to be. Today two-thirds of people with a college degree are married, compared with less than half of those with a high school degree or less.
Marriage, whatever its social, spiritual or symbolic appeal, is in purely practical terms just not as necessary as it used to be. Neither men nor women need to be married to have sex or companionship or professional success or respect or even children – yet marriage remains revered and desired.
About 70% of us have been married at least once, according to the 2010 Census. 44% of Americans under 30 believe marriage is heading for extinction; only 5 % of those in that age group do not want to get married.
People want to finish college first, In 2010 the median age of men getting married for the first time is 28.2, and for women it’s 26.1. It’s gone up about a year every decade since the 1960’s.
National Census study showed that only 54% of Americans are married. This is down by 72% than it was 50 years ago.
Nearly one in three American children is living with a parent who is divorced, separated or never-married (five times more than 1960). More people are accepting the view that wedding bells aren’t needed to have a family.
In spite of it all, 67% of people are upbeat about the future of marriage- a much higher number than those who are optimistic about education or the economy. Especially during this month, traditionally set aside for love, reflect on the potentially beautiful wonders of a good marriage.