Think of the Weddings You Don’t Go toMay 3, 2006
On our High School graduating class Fifth reunion, well over half the class was already married. Two guys in the class had three kids. (We know what causes that now…I wonder if those two did). The really weird thing is that none of us were surprised at how many in the class were settled down and had a spouse.
The other day, a much younger friend of mine was talking with me and the subject of marriage came up (he is already married). He had been speaking to a former high school classmate and they realized something: My friend is the only one in his circle of friends in that graduating class that has gotten married. His graduation happened over 8 years ago.
This trend has become a watershed event culturally. People are marrying later or not at all. Read this study done in Canada: Less marriages, less divorces and less children. Let’s assume for a second that Canada and the US share this cultural statistic. How do we explain it?
The two of us thought long and hard on it and came up with several reasonable hypotheses coupled with some obvious answers.
First, obviously the incredible increase in divorces among the parents of today’s “twenty-somethings” has scared them off from getting married too quickly. I have no doubt that this is true, but it only the most obvious factor. I believe there are other factors, most of which are more subtle. None of these factors in and of themselves will cause a major societal shift away from marriage, but taken together I intuitively believe they are causing this change.
1. The Upgrade Factor. Today’s young adults grew up on the concept that today’s video game or computer program or technology is going to be improved upon rapidly. It has made most of them wary of buying into something new, untested or expensive. The idea is “wait until the next version comes out which will be cheaper, have less bugs and be more fun.” It sounds ludicrous to think that this would affect one’s choice of a mate, but think about it. If you get married, you are stuck with the same model for the rest of your life. There ought not to be a Spouse 2.0. If you grow up with the concept that there probably will be something better out there for you, you will be hesitant to commit all you are to the first marriageable person who will say yes (or who will ask).
2. Improved Birth Control: This may be complicated, so follow the path with me. As birth control methods have become more advanced, more available and more anonymous, this has lead to sex becoming more recreational than procreational. Lest you think this was always the case, you don’t understand the human condition. Much of our current fascination with sex has become divorced from “making babies” and this has left many people wondering what they would even get married for. It has also coupled with reason #1 to leave people wondering if committing to having sex with one partner is going to exclude most of the recreational benefits from sex that could be had with a greater range of experience. Getting married means that you have to commit to one brand of sex for the rest of your life. What if that person is not very talented sexually? That means you will be “left behind” all your friends who are getting it with more variety.
3. Emphasis on Careers: In the latest protest marches against the Federal Government’s immigration laws, one group of people were almost absent: High School Seniors. When asked why, they cited one primary reason. They didn’t want to jeopardize their futures for a one-day march in the middle of state board exams (in California). This underscores one other reason marriages are being put on hold. They truly do get in the way of a college education and the ability to throw yourself into a new job with verve and energy. We all watched our parents get married young and wish they had gone on to college first.
4. Online Communities: One impetus for getting married is the opportunity to share your whole being with another person. To investigate the depth of another person’s soul, so that you feel like there is an organic oneness between you. I remember visiting an elderly couple every couple of weeks when I was newly married. As I talked with them, they had hundreds of inside jokes, knowing looks, crazy stories they both shared etc. They would finish each other’s sentences and refer to things with two words and knew exactly what the other meant. I longed for that. In talking with today’s adults who have grown up online, I realize that hours spent with online communities have provided some of this joyful joining. In that sense, the pressure is off to seek out someone to share your whole being with, since the relative anonymity of the Internet provides that we can bare our souls. This does not replace a spouse, but it surely takes the pressure off of looking too early.
Are there other contributing factors? Undoubtedly.
UPDATE: I just found this article in USA Today from last year. One notable comment from the end of the article states:
The USA has the lowest percentage among Western nations of children who grow up with both biological parents, 63%, the report says.
“The United States has the weakest families in the Western world because we have the highest divorce rate and the highest rate of solo parenting,” Popenoe says.
So maybe the most obvious factor is the one that is most telling: We are marrying less as a society because the institution of marriage has been sullied so much by the Baby Boomers. It wouldn’t surprise me. If this is true, then the next generation after this one should see a rise in marriage rates.