Is Marriage Really Obsolete and Why?

We have been hit with this question a ton the past three months since the Pew Research Center conducted a survey of more than 2,600 Americans in October of 2010.  The more precise phrase used in their research was “marriage becoming obsolete.”  As authors and relationship experts, it’s always hard to argue the facts so we like to offer our insight into some of these revealing trends and attitudes towards the institution of marriage.

The Facts

–Among the 2,691 adults surveyed by Pew in their 2010 survey, 39% say marriage is “becoming obsolete,” up from 28% who responded to the same question posed in 1978 by Time magazine, which participated in the survey.

–Census data reflects a declining percentage of married adults: 54% in 2010, down from 57% in 2000 and 72% in 1960.

–The median age at one’s first marriage increased in 2010 to its highest ever: 28.2 for men and 26.1 for women, according to Census. That’s up from 26.8 and 25.1 in 2000. Among those ages 25-34, the percentage of those who are married fell below unmarried people for the first time in more than a century.

As we always teach in our live events, “facts tell but stories sell,” so what’s the story with these facts here in 2011? There are a many elements that contribute to America’s declining view of marriage and we have provided our top three reasons below.

1.       Financial Insecurity

When we conducted the research for our book Men: 10 Secrets Every Woman Should Know from Two Guys That Do, we interviewed and coached thousands of men asking their opinions on, what we call, the “Taboo Subjects.” These are the topics men have the most difficulty talking about with the women in their lives.  Of course sex is always a topic taboo subject, but discussing money and their financial situation was one of the most common topics men struggled with in their relationships (either single or married).  Let’s face it; a man’s ego wants to be the bread winner and the provider for his family. This dates back thousands of years and very few experts will argue this animalistic instinct of the male human species.

The past decade in America has seen some uniquely challenging economic times.  Buying a home was always thought to be the no-brainer investment to long term financial security.  Additionally, investing in respectable and tenured companies seemed prudent.  With the dot-com bust in the early 2000’s and the most recent financial meltdown of big banks and “respected” companies coupled with most real estate markets under-water, people and especially men are more apprehensive than ever to make a commitment to marriage and providing for another/children. One of our single, never-been-married, 35 year-old clients said it best, “If my own job and financial security is shaky, why would I want to bring that stress and uncertainty on a family? I would rather wait and become more stable before making that jump.”

2.       Parents Setting a Standard on Marriage

If the numbers are saying people are more skittish about getting married, you should check out the divorce statistics of the generation before their time.  The divorce rate has held fairly steady at or near 50% for the last century, depending on what statistic you read.  As an illustration, we are both happily married and between the two of our own parents, we have a combined six divorces.  One can see how a 25 year old male who has multiple divorces from his own mom and dad might develop his own bad beliefs about marriage thinking, “Hey, it didn’t work for my own parents and I know how negatively it affected me growing up—why would I want to duplicate the same pattern in my family?” We have a read a few studies that show children who come from “broken homes” (this term also refers to families that have dissolved marriages), have a higher chance of duplicating their own parents paradigm. So it makes sense that so many people pump the brakes when it comes to making that jump into marriage based on their own upbringing.

3.       Social Perception and the Media

With so many famous alleged role models such as, celebrities, athletes, and notable leaders getting divorces the past decade, Americans view divorce totally differently than they did in 1950.  When watching Leave It to Beaver, no one could even imagine the Cleavers getting a divorce, even if they had major issues in the home.  It was such a stigma to be divorced just a few decades ago. Family values were much different and we argue much stronger in the middle of the century compared to now.  There are way too many celebrity divorces to put in this blog to show as illustration but the point is that having the word “divorced” next to your name is no longer a stigma in our society.  In our many live events (for both men and women), we have heard more than a few of them share with us how they are more seriously considering divorce now that society doesn’t put a big “D” on your head.  Quite the opposite, as there are empowerment groups, dating sites, and social groups all around the US where divorced people are reclaiming themselves proudly.

Marriage is definitely NOT obsolete and people’s views towards marriage have clearly changed over the years. To each their own!

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