Tag Archives: marriage trends

Are 20-Somethings in a Relational Wasteland With No Courtship?

Chances are you met your mate, dated for a while, fell in love, got engaged, then got married. It’s the “courtship narrative” we were brought up with. But it’s not the case anymore. For many, “this narrative has been disrupted, without being replaced, leaving many 20-somethings in a ‘relational wasteland.’” Sadly, in this super-connected society, true emotional connections are becoming more difficult.

Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project a the University of Virginia, writes in The Washington Post about young people who are Lost in a World Without Courtship.

Why the change? Sexual activity is starting much earlier than in previous generations, but the average age at which people marry is later. This leaves a hormone-filled gap—during which our culture (including parents and churches, according to Wilcox) provides little guidance. Casual sex generally fills the gap, with no discussion of love, and often no dating or courtship. (It’s not uncommon to hear about “sexual favors” being performed casually in elementary and middle school.) Even after graduating from college, many 20-somethings go out in groups and “hook up” as they wish, rather than go out on dates. Occasionally, a couple creates a “relationship,” but marriage is not the next step in their narrative.

Wilcox says young people have evolved their own narrative, and the next step is cohabitation. “For some, it is a test-drive for marriage. For others, it is an easier, low-commitment alternative to marriage.” From 1960 to 2007, cohabitation increased forteenfold. “Serial cohabitation trains people for divorce…and can poison one’s view of the opposite sex,” says Wilcox, adding that engaged couples who cohabit are generally not adversely affected.

The bigger problem for society is when cohabiting couples decide to procreate. “Cohabitation is no place for children,” says Wilcox. Three-fourths of children in such unions see their parents split by age 16, while one-third of children with married parents see them divorce. He says marriage is society’s best tool for binding the parents together in the common interests of the child. Children in single-parent homes are considerably more disadvantaged—financially, physically, mentally and emotionally.

Wilcox suggests the ideal age to marry seems to be in the early to mid-20s. Teen marriages have a much higher divorce rate, and those marrying after 27 are at risk of being too set in their ways or having unrealistically high standards. (Kathleen Quiring has just written a series on why early marriage can be a positive trend in her opinion. Read the series at Project M.)

What’s your story? How did you meet your mate and fall in love? Do you think courtship, romance, dating and love are dying out with the young? How do you think marriage will be affected for the next generation? What do you teach your children about love and sex?

Does Marriage Benefit Adults or Just Children?

Do you believe the institution of marriage has outlived its value in modern society?

As a followup to the post on “Marriage Haves” and “Have Nots”, which cited a data-rich article in National Affairs, researcher David Lapp has drawn some very interesting conclusions to the data in his brief, yet eloquent, column with The Witherspoon Institute called, “Marriage as Friendship.” It is definitely worth the read to understand the answer to his crucial question: Is the institution of marriage good for adults, and if so, why? The answers and evidence are thought-provoking and may surprise you.

While marriage has been shown to be beneficial to children, Lapp considers whether we have evidence that it is also beneficial to adults. He divides marriage into two types. The first is the institutional marriage model, which is a lifelong endeavor that seeks to create “the best kind of friendship” bound together by virtue and common good. The second type is the soul-mate model, which prioritizes the adults’ emotional wellbeing and depends on mutual emotional satisfaction.

Lapp brings up many of the common arguments against marriage to determine if they have merit. Without giving away too much detail, following is one of Lapp’s conclusions:

“The institutional model doesn’t guarantee that every married person will thrive, but it does secure marriage to a more solid foundation than utility or pleasure. For adults searching for love, then, the institutional model of marriage is hardly a sentence to slavery, but rather an invitation to the good life.”

What do you think about the “Marriage as Friendship” model? Are you living what he describes as the good life?

The Marriage “Haves” and “Have Nots”

I’ve posted a guest post today at The Marry Blogger about the societal divide of marriage in the United States. Here’s the intro:

College educated married couples are about half as likely to divorce as their less educated peers. Americans have seen divorce rates drop by about 30 percent since the early 1980s, but Americans without college degrees saw their divorce rates rise 6 percent.

This has created a social class divide in our society where the marriage “haves” (along with their children) receive the proven benefits of marriage, while the “have nots” fall further behind, economically, emotionally and socially, according to The Evolution of Divorce from National Affairs magazine’s fall 2009 issue.

To read the entire article, to go The Marry Blogger.

Marriage 101: Is It Teachable?

When I was a 24-year-old bride, I thought my husband should know when I was upset, should apologize when he was wrong and should agree with me when I pointed out why I was right. Ah, young love. The stuff of storybook romances.

The fact is many of us have unrealistic expectations of marriage at the outset. Diane Sollee, who coined the phrase “marriage education” says while people are given instructions on how to court, get engaged and get married, how to have a great honeymoon and get through pregnancy, people are not often educated about what to expect in a normal, good marriage. She founded the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education in 1995, because she believed there was a fundamental understanding in society of the importance of a complete, biological, intact family.

One common misconception is that there are compatible and incompatible couples. When the industry moved from studying failing marriages to studying successful marriages in the 1980s, they learned there is no compatible couple. “All couples disagree the same amount. Couples have to manage money, children, sex, others and time, and they will disagree about those,” said Sollee in an Examiner.com article. Experts now teach how to effectively manage (not “resolve) conflict, which is found in every marriage.

Sollee’s organization provides an educational web site to provide information helpful to maintaining long, happy marriages. It’s part of the Utah Marriage Initiative launched to help make marriages stronger. Educational articles help fill in the blanks when family role models or personal experience aren’t perfect, or for people who want their marriages to be better than average.

Does is surprise you that Utah has a state-wide initiative? It shouldn’t. Our nation is working at the Federal level to promote two-parent families and discourage out-of-wedlock births, and the government and is measuring states’ performances and linking welfare funds to those objectives. In 1999, Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating launched the nation’s largest marriage initiative to cut that state’s high divorce and out-of-wedlock birth rates. It appears their motivation was at least partly financial, as it followed a 1998 report that showed the state’s economy was suffering as a result of high family breakdown and increasing poverty levels. Utah was spending $276 million per year on unwed childbirth and family fragmentation prior to its initiative.

Religious, professional and political groups are all mobilizing toward the same goal of preventing family breakdown as detailed in this article. Their motivations may be moral, financial, political or seeking to improve the welfare of our nation’s families. All of them have to return to the basics, because the two questions to which many in our society don’t know the answers (especially those who grew up in fragmented families), are “Why should we value marriage?” and, “How can we create a long-term, happy marriage?”

Probably the most compelling answer to the first question for couples who plan to have children is the overwhelming evidence that children do better in all respects when they are raised in an intact family. Research also shows society as a whole benefits when divorce rates and out-of-wedlock rates decline. Marriage and family experts are trying to educate the public to help them answer the second question, but the overall conclusion is that couples can learn how to have more fulfilling, happier marriages if they work at it and have realistic expectations.

Thankfully, I’ve learned from quite a few mistakes during the last nearly 15 years of marriage. Do you think you can learn to be a better spouse, or is marriage unteachable? What can we teach the next generation to help build stronger families?

What Factors Make Your Marriage Less Likely to Last?

Love isn’t enough for a marriage to succeed, say researchers from the Australian National University, who followed 2,500 couples for six years to learn which couples stayed together and which did not.

First, the factors which do NOT seem to impact a marriage’s success rate:

  • How many children a couple has
  • Whether or not the wife works
  • The number of years the couple is employed

The factors that played a significant part in whether marriages lasted were:

  • Second/third marriages—90% are likely to separate or divorce.
  • Age—If a man is under 25 when he marries, or is nine or more years older than his wife, the marriage is twice as likely to fail as if the man is older than 25 or closer to his wife’s age.
  • Blended families—Of those who marry with children from prior relationships, 20% end up divorced.
  • Desire for children—If the woman’s desire for children is much stronger than a man’s, the marriage is unlikely to succeed.
  • Parents’ relationships—Children of divorce had a 17% divorce rate, versus 10% divorce rate for those from intact families.
  • Smoking—Having one smoker in a marriage increases the likelihood of divorce.
  • Money—16% of self-reported poor couples in which the man was unemployed broke up, while 9% of those with comfortable bank accounts divorced.

If one or more of these factors is a concern for your marriage, don’t be pessimistic about your relationship. Instead, discuss it with your partner and seek tools or support for any areas of concern. But if you haven’t married yet, and your fiancé is a 22-year-old unemployed smoker, he has two children from a previous marriage, and he doesn’t want any more children (and you do), think long and hard about it.

What do you think about marriage statistics? Do you give them any credence or do you feel your relationship is unique and not impacted by outside trends?

Is There Hope for the American Marriage?

If you’ve ever read something that felt like you were reading your own thoughts, you will understand how much I connected with the July 2 Time Magazine cover story, with the same title as this post—most of it anyway.

Writer Caitlin Flanagan explains how marriage has changed during the past 40 years, and how these changes are affecting American families today. As an example of our obsession with high-profile marriage disasters, she pokes a bit of fun at South Carolina governor Mark Sanford (with his too-much-information mistress emails) and Senator John Ensign of Nevada, who recently made a similar public confession, but was nice enough to leave God out of it, “which must have been a nice break for the Almighty,” she says.

Flanagan calls marriage “an increasingly fragile construct depending less and less on notions of sacrifice and obligation than on the ephemera of romance and happiness as defined by and for its adult principles.” While the two-parent family remains our cultural ideal, frequent bombardment by things like affairs, boredom or lack of commitment are changing its face. (For example, 39.7% of births are now to unmarried women, most of whom are uneducated with low incomes.)

Why does this matter, she asks? Because the collapse of marriage is causing more “measurable hardship and human misery in this country” than any other single cause. And, because it hurts children, reduces their mothers’ financial security, and devastates the underclass. It’s a “catastrophic approach to life,” argued against by the current President and last two Presidents.

As I’ve frequently written about in this blog, she asserts every outcome measured on the wellbeing of children is higher when children are from two-parent, intact families. They live longer, perform better in school, have lower rates of teen pregnancy, criminal behavior, and on and on. Flanagan even quotes an ardent feminist, who after researching, was loathe to admit, yes, a father is important to children, even when he is not important to their mother.

The effect of divorce is true regardless of the child’s race or the family’s income. David Blankenhorn, the president of the Institute for American Values, says, “Children have a primal need to know who they are, to love and be loved by the two people whose physical union brought them here. To lose that connection, that sense of identity, is to experience a wound that no child-support check or fancy school can ever heal.”

What about committed cohabitors? According to researchers, it’s possible to provide a similar level of stability for a child without marriage. Unfortunately, very few cohabitors actually remain committed. Once stress enters the picture, often in the form of a child, “the new mother starts to make wifelike demands on the man, and without the commitment of marriage, he is soon out the door.”

What’s odd, or at least interesting, is that Americans as a whole still say they value lasting marriage as the gold standard. Yet, they may actually hold standards that are impossibly high. Remember that touching moment on Inauguration Night with the Obamas dancing lovingly all night? Flanagan suggests part of the awe and wonder was in “the sight of a middle-aged man and woman still together, still in love.” “We want something like that for ourselves; we recognize that it is something of great worth, but we are increasingly less willing to put in the hard work and personal sacrifice to get there,” she says, adding, “A lasting marriage is the reward, usually, of hard work and self-sacrifice.”

What can be done? “It is time to come to terms with both our unrealistic expectations for a happy marriage and our equally unrealistic beliefs about the consequences of walking away from the families we build,” Flanagan says.

She asks if marriage is simply an institution designed to increase the pleasure of the adults who enter into it. (If so, forget it; life sometimes includes sickness and pain.) Or, is the purpose of marriage “to raise the next generation, to protect and teach it, to instill in it the habits of conduct and character that will ensure the generation’s own safe passage into adulthood?” After all, these are the children, who will be taking care of us when we’re old.

What do you think the purpose of marriage is? I have hope for the American marriage, do you?

Read the Time Magazine article in full: http://tinyurl.com/nbbmkn

Prospects Strong for those Wishing to Marry Later

Two decades ago, Newsweek magazine joked that a 40-year-old single woman was “more likely to be killed by a terrorist” than ever marry. Though the comment was made in jest, it stuck and was often cited. However, even the not-joking marriage probability rating they offered for a 35-year-old woman was only 5 percent. The story induced quite a lot anxiety, which, it turns out, wasn’t warranted.

While fewer married in their 20s, the rate of women who eventually marry was much higher than expected, according to Newsweek.com’s Marriage by the Numbers. Some trends that did pan out as expected were the higher rates of cohabitation and the emergence and growth of single mothers by choice.

The biggest marriage shift for women has been to wait longer to marry. Additionally, marriage rates for better educated women is much higher than for women with lower levels of education. While the old stereotype said that women who excelled professionally may have been less appealing or “overqualified” as spouses, a 2001 Princeton study shows that college degrees make a woman more likely to marry, not less so. The trend is so pronounced that researchers now worry “that marriage, which confers a host of economic, tax and child-rearing advantages, is becoming disproportionately reserved for better-educated, middle- and upper-class elites.”

Many of today’s 30-somethings are less alarmed today if they haven’t found the perfect mate, says the article. Odds are, in fact much better for those in their 30’s and 40’s who wish to marry to find a spouse than had been assumed. Approximately 90 percent of baby-boomers have married or will marry. In 1960, half of women married by 20. Now, many more women are waiting to finish college and at least begin their careers. As of 1996, a single 40-year-old woman had about a 41 percent chance of marrying. Those odds have increased to just under 50 percent. Today, the median age for a first marriage is 25 for women and 27 for men.

While most of the research focused on women, because data on them was more available, men’s attitudes toward marriage have also changed over time. Both genders of Gen-Xers are said to have a greater commitment to marriage because so many watched their parents divorce. Many men openly seek a wife as much as the reverse. Women are also considering younger men, where previously that was more taboo.

Newsweek revisited 11 of the 14 single 20-something women who were interviewed for the original story. Eight are married, including a pediatrician who met her husband while hiking the Badlands and married at 45. Some said they wished they had found their spouses earlier, especially when battling infertility. Three remained single, one whose fiancée died, another who chose to adopt as a single woman. None who married divorced.

Are you still looking for the perfect spouse? Do you think it helps that people are marrying later in life when they are more mature and established? What are your predictions for future marriage rates? (Or, would you prefer we ignore these predictive statistics entirely?)

For the full Newsweek article, visit: http://www.newsweek.com/id/52295/