December 16, 2011

Marriage Rates, Falling

"The sky is falling!"
This week a big report came out saying that Marriage Rates are Falling. Let me rephrase. This week, news reports seemed to freak out about the falling marriage rates with the same sort of fervor as Henny Penny warned that the sky was falling.

I kept wondering to myself, "Why are we finally making this a big deal?" We talk about this national syndrome every Fall. Remember what we said last year?

From my 2010 write-up on marriage rates:
While fewer people are marrying, more couples are choosing to live together. The number of Americans co-habitating rose 13% in just one year, to 7.5 million couples. Analysts around the country believe the recession is to blame for the dramatic change.

According to Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, "Men's employment has taken a big hit, and when the guy doesn't have a stable job, couples are more hesitant about tying the knot."
"It makes sense to postpone marriage until economic things are worked out," says Benjamin Karney, co-founder of the Relationship Institute at UCLA. "In the 1950s, two people would get married as a way of starting their adult lives -- that's why you'd give them toasters and plates and linens," Karney said. "Nowadays, marriage is something you build up to and achieve."

Last year's story is similar to this year's. "All time low." "Poor economy is playing a role." "More people are living together." Only in 2010, the reports said that 52% of people were married and now it's only 51%.

Things that have remained fairly consistent since 1960 in America:
1. Fewer people are getting married
2. The median age is increasingly higher when Americans marry for the first time

We have to look at the big picture here. Sure, America's rates are dropping, but what does that really say about our society? Some critics will chant, "the numbers show that America is putting less value on marriage."
Really? Tell that to those same-sex couples who've been fighting for the legal privileges of marriage for decades.

Kim Kardashian is putting less value on marriage. Not America.
Some could even argue the fact that the numbers show that marriage has more value, equalling such a high commitment that people just aren't ready to dive into.

In fact, in light of the recent news, the crew over at SodaHeads took a poll asking simply, "Is marriage relevant?" The reaction: 72% of respondents say YES. Their overall feedback was that, "Marriage will never be outdated. People are just less committed and that is obvious in practically every walk of life."

For the last four decades, we've seen the number of married couples decline by more than 20 percent. We've seen a dramatic increase in the number of couples who live together without marrying. And more people are waiting to be financially stable or have fulfilled certain educational goals. We've watched citizens - and celebrities - change their views on marriage. For instance. Take divorcees Brad and Angelina who say, "When you have six children, you're committed." We all know that philosophy was worthless for "Jon and Kate split after eight."

Is marriage out-dated? Not cool anymore? I must admit, when my husband was recently asked if I were his girlfriend, I blushed, thinking how awesome it was that people looked at us as if we were a fun dating couple and not as boring married people.
Maybe marriage will make its comeback just like everything else vintage.

What I have found interesting about this on-going phenomenon is the growing gap among married people and their education level. Back in 1960 when the Pew Research Institute began really crunching these numbers, it didn't matter if you'd gone to college or not; the number of people married in both education levels was nearly equal. But NOW? If you've gone to college, you're more likely to marry. In fact, more education actually increases your statistical chances of getting married. Married people now have more wealth, more education.

This reminds me of the current nationwide discussion about the "disappearing middle class." Are we nearing a nation that looks clearly divided between the college-educated/married and the unmarried high school graduates? That thought makes me more concerned than the falling marriage rates.

We're in the midst of a major change in the way Americans define marriage. Let's not forget that marriage has constantly been changing its definition. Remember how its roots regarded marriage as a business deal? It was about money and exchange of property (with women being used as the biggest bargaining chip). Now, people marry for many different reasons. But mostly, we marry for love.

What are your thoughts about the recent reports? Today's 31 Dates poll: Is Marriage Going Out of Style? Please click on the poll to vote!

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