Is Marriage Doomed?

end-of-marriageA new article from Bently University claims to tell us Why Millennials Refuse to Get Married, without actually doing any such thing.

Millennials are saying no to traditional marriage in record numbers…and that’s not all. In Western culture in the late 18th century, marriage transformed from an economic arrangement into a union based on love. Now it may again be heading toward radical change.

It is already undergoing a radical change, and has been for the last 50 years.

The median age at first marriage is now 27 for women and 29 for men — up from 20 for women and 23 for men in 1960.

This is due to the availability of reliable birth control, which let women choose career over children, which in turn led to two income households being the norm, which eventually made two incomes a necessary thing for most couples, at least while they were young.

Today an unprecedented portion of millennials will remain unmarried through age 40, a recent Urban Institute report predicted. The marriage rate might drop to 70 percent — a figure well below rates for boomers (91 percent), late boomers (87 percent) and Gen Xers (82 percent). And declines might be even sharper if marriage rates recover slowly, or not at all, from pre-recession levels, according to the report.

I predict they won’t recover.

Traditional marriage has been on a downward trajectory for generations, but with this group it appears to be in free fall. According to a report released last month by the Pew Research Center, 25 percent of millennials are likely to never be married. That would be the highest share in modern history.

This number includes couples who live together and raise families, making it look worse than it is.

Marriage patterns will continue to diverge by education and race, increasing the divides between mostly married “haves” and increasingly single “have-nots,” predicted an internal analysis of the Urban Institute report. Tax rates, eligibility for entitlement programs, and the availability of social safety nets are all altered by marital status, it said. Current marriage trends will make it challenging to develop policies that efficiently target the needs of the growing number of unmarried poor, it said.

The limited tax benefits of marriage are far outweighed by the risk of financial ruin in divorce, which 1 in 2 married couples will go through. No wonder singles are poor; many of them have been through the divorce courts.

“To me, there are so many things that encourage people to marry for financial reasons,” said Steven Weisman, a lawyer who teaches a class on “Marriage, Separation and Divorce” class at Bentley University, in a Baltimore Sun article. From Social Security to income taxes, married couples benefit economically.

Not those who are divorced.

Young couples are opting to live together and put off marriage for later, if at all. About a quarter of unmarried young adults (ages 25 to 34) are living with a partner, according to Pew Research analysis of Current Population Survey data.

If they’re living together already, why aren’t they marrying if the financial incentives are so great? Is there a risk that outweighs the benefits?

About 70 percent of millennials say they would like to marry, but many — especially those with lower levels of income and education — lack what they deem to be a necessary prerequisite: a solid economic foundation.

If the financial benefits of marriage are real, this makes no sense. Getting married should help a couple to more quickly build a solid economic foundation. What’s going on here?

In contrast to the patterns of the past, when adults in all socio-economic groups married at roughly the same rate, marriage today is more prevalent among those with higher incomes and more education, according to the Pew research.

In the past, families in all socio-economic groups could live on the income of one partner. Today, only those with higher incomes can afford to live on a single income.

“Even as marriage rates have plummeted — particularly for the young and the less educated — Gallup survey data show that young singles very much hope to get hitched. Of Americans age 18 to 34, only about nine percent have both never been married and say they do not ever want to marry,” wrote Catherine Rampell.

Only 10% say they’re never going to marry. This is encouraging. If the reasons that fewer people are marrying are addressed, the trend can be reversed.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, white, black or Hispanic. Most Americans are married or would like to marry. The challenge, then, facing the United States is bridging the gap between the nearly universal aspiration to marry and the growing inability of poor and working-class Americans to access marriage,” said Wilcox.

And by the United States, do you mean the state? The state is what got us into this predicament in the first place, or at least had a big part in helping us get here.

That fewer millennials are choosing to marry is also a reflection of modern social attitudes that reject the institution as outdated. It’s time to embrace new ideas about romance and family — and acknowledge the end of traditional marriage as society’s highest ideal, according to Kate Bolick, author of the 2011 Atlantic cover story, “All the Single Ladies,” which sparked a national conversation.

As long as marriage is replaced by some other form of stable family, we have lost nothing except in name. When people cease to raise children, we are in different territory; we are on the road to demographic winter.

Just recently popular comedian Sarah Silverman tweeted, “Why would I want the govt involved in my love life? Ew. It’s barbaric.”

A rare occasion when I agree with her.

Public disenchantment with marriage is reflected in national surveys. Half of American adults believe society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children, according to the recent Pew report.

People not prioritizing children is not a bad thing, in my opinion, though there will be turmoil as the demographics of the population adjust to the lower birthrate. Single parent families are less desirable, due to the poor outcomes realized (on average) by children of single parents.

And opinions on this issue differ sharply by age — with young adults much more likely than older adults to say society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children. Fully two-thirds of those ages 18 to 29 (67 percent) express this viewpoint, as do 53 percent of those ages 30 to 49. Among those ages 50 and older, most (55 percent) say society is better off if people make marriage and children a priority, Pew found.

I’m often an outlier it seems.

But what if marriage stopped forcing young people to conform to an outdated tradition?

How does it do so now? You can have a civil service and enter into a marriage with no traditional vows if you want to.

Marriage offers unquestionable benefits, wrote Psychology Today’s Susan Pease Gadoua, but it’s a stale paradigm. “Rather than having only a choice to marry the same old way, or to not marry, let’s get a little imaginative and come up with marital options that would be better suited to a variety of people, including a short-term trial union for younger couples, a child-rearing marriage for those who’d like to be nothing more than co-parents, or a socially acceptable live apart arrangement.”

How about a contract that can’t be thrown out by the family courts?

A recent article in Time Magazine suggests a beta-marriage in which millennials test-drive their nuptials before jumping into what is supposed to be a lifelong commitment. Margaret Mead, a woman well ahead of her time, threw this notion out in the 1960s; in 2002, journalist and author, Pamela Paul, wrote a book on starter marriages, and; in 2011, Mexico City proposed laws supporting two-year renewable marriage contracts.

How is this any different from living with each other before marrying? Why do we need the state for this?

The overall forces of biology, social needs and economics will never let some form of long-term partnership fade away, says Bentley University’s Dean of Arts and Sciences Daniel Everett.

Though currently, the unfair legal framework of state marriage (legal or common law) pushes back against the need for long-term partnership.

The definition of marriage has been fluid over time and between cultures, he said. “In American marriages, as they have evolved, the ideal is to marry by mutual consent and build first and foremost a relationship,” said Everett.

This is a very recent idea, but I believe it is a good one.

“Among some Amazonian societies, the marriage relationship is first an economic partnership, with clear division of labor, from which a relationship may develop,” he said. “Among more religious societies, such as rural Catholic in southern Mexico, there is some overlap with the Amazonian. And the American rural model is economy first, relationship second, with clear division of labor, and the added sanction of religion.”

In societies that have the need for strong physical labor to provide for the family (whether by hunting or agriculture), women need men who can provide it, especially when they are incapacitated by pregnancy. With the advent of birth control and automation, the need for a man to physically provide is reduced.

Will the millennial generation usher in a new era that saves American marriage by allowing it to evolve? Radical as it may seem, they just might.

It’s possible. Then again, if changing demographics and the ever growing state lead to economic collapse, the traditional family is quite likely to emerge from the ashes to rebuild. Let’s hope we achieve the former.

About jimbelton

I'm a software developer, and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and I blog about movies, books, and philosophy. My interest in religious philosophy and the search for the truth inspires much of my writing.
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