According to a study by the Pew Research Center (PRC), only 50% of American adults are married. This is a decline from the 72% rate that existed in 1960. Why are we marrying at a rate that's 22% less than our grandparents? Just when you thought the dating scene was flaky enough, there's that. I could speculate that it has a lot to do with new technology and the shift in culture, but I won't. This time we're going to check out some facts and figures that point to the real reason we're foregoing what used to be a major milestone of adulthood. I initially assumed that our generation would start "dating with a purpose" when we reached our late twenties, but for us millennials, it doesn't seem to be that way. Instead of dating to eventually marry our partners, it seems we're playing the field longer and/or opting not to marry-- much to our parent's frustration. (Read my previous post on "single-shaming" here.) Are we just dating for entertainment purposes at this point? Maybe... or maybe there are deeper reasons behind it. Here are 4 reasons why we're marrying at a lesser rate than our grandparents.
1. We embrace unconventional family forms. It's become not a big deal to have children and live together outside of marriage in our generation, and people are definitely using that option. In fact, the same PRC study points to an increase of people doing just that. For me, this raises something similar to the chicken or the egg question. (Which came first?) Is the marriage rate declining because people are okay with living together and having children out of wedlock OR are people more comfortable with the situation because the marriage rate is declining? Either way, our overall values have shifted in the new generation and the marriage numbers are showing just that.
2. We're waiting until we complete our education. The PRC research shows that the marriage rate increases along with the education level. The marriage rate of individuals with a bachelor's degree or more was 15% higher than those with no post-graduate coursework. It seems like our generation doesn't feel secure about getting married until our education goals are met.This could also be indicative of us wanting to be financially secure before getting married. One of the things that was drilled into the heads of millennials is that getting a degree leads to financial stability. The marriage rates are seemingly mirroring this teaching.
3. Undesirable financial status deters us. This is a natural progression of the previous reason. In survey data collected by the PRC, just under half the participants suggested the lack of financial stability is their reason for not getting married. We apparently don't want to be a financial burden to potential partners or we don't want to deal with a partner that is a financial burden. (Read more about how your financial status may be deterring your proposal here.) While it sounds responsible, it's definitely not romantic. Romance has seemingly taken a back seat to practicality in this generation. We're thinking more about our financial futures and less about companionship.
4. We just haven't met the right person. As obvious as this may sound, it too, was covered in the PRC study and turned out to be the number one reason for people not being married. With 59% of adults giving this as a reason, it's a pretty good indicator of why we think we aren't getting married, but opens a broad spectrum as to who would be the "right" person. What changed from our grandparents' generation to ours? Maybe we just added more criteria to the list of things that would make a person the right person to marry. We seem to give more consideration to education and financial levels when it comes to marriage. So, it's fair to say we have more factors to consider when choosing the "right" person.
We are definitely not our grandparents and have shifted ideals in a matter of two generations. While I would love to keep marriage on the same importance level on which our grandparents held it, it seems that we've rearranged our priorities a bit. As cliché as it may sound, times have changed and we have more than a few reasons why marriage isn't the same pressing milestone it was 50 years ago. A girl can still dream, though.