Approaching 50%: Is This The End of Marriage?

Awkward moments seem to happen to me often.  I have a hard time diffusing them too.  Last week I had an awkward moment that just wouldn’t end. While paying for my bag of cat food at PetCo, I wound up in a conversation, which I completely put on the guy who rang me up.  First – I’ve been in comparable jobs – there are only so many safe topics for chitchat and he went well beyond those.  Here’s what happened:

PetCo Employee: Do you have your P.A.L.S. card?

Me: Yes [Hold it out for him to scan]

PetCo Employee: Can I see your ID? [I put this on my debit and credit cards]

Me: [Holding out ID for him]

PetCo Employee: Oh!  I see congratulations are in order!

At this point I thought I’d won something – free cat food, a puppy, anything!  I am certain I had a very confused look on my face.

PetCo Employee: Your name on your ID and the name on your P.A.L.S. card are different.  I take it you married recently.

Me: No.  The card is under my boyfriend.

PetCo Employee: Oh.

Awkward silence comes and stays for a few seconds.  Then he starts talking about the recent study on marriage rates in the US.  At this point I’m in shock.  1. Is everybody talking about this?  I thought it was one of those things that would pop up on feminist blogs and be a quick hit in the news and the average person not looking for such stories would miss it.  2. Why, oh why, am I still standing here?

I decided to briefly discuss the report with him.  He told me he understood, considering the divorce rate over the last 20-30 years.  I explained my boyfriend and I lived together, were not married and I had little interest in it.  Going into the reasons why tends to make any situation awkward for others, so I figured why make this worse.  He then explained he was divorced and I made a comment about all the children of divorced parents thinking hard about marriage, as in my generation and how it impacts them.  Apparently that made it worse, at which point I thanked him and left.  Divorce has an impact on children as they become adults.  It will affect how they see marriage, and what role it plays in their life and future, no matter what role is.

This new information came from a Pew Survey.  The Pew Research Center did state in their results: “It is not yet known whether today’s young adults are abandoning marriage or merely delaying it.”  Given the uncertainty in the economy, it is certainly possible and likely that many are just delaying marriage.  But would it really be so bad if more people were moving away from the institution all together?  Much of Europe is already seeing such trends, and we’re just a little now catching up.

Four out of ten Americans feel the institution is becoming obsolete, while most would still like to marry one day.  Are we trained to believe it’s necessary even when it isn’t or are we going to continue because it’s what we’ve always done?

Here is where my friend at PetCo got it wrong: the divorce rate over the last 20 years, has actually leveled off, and are less of a factor than in previous generations.  Some of this can be attributed to the age at first marriage rising, giving everyone a chance to figure out if this person we found at 20 or 22 is really who we want to be with at 65.

The LA Times pointed to the youngest demographic, yes those pesky youngsters: “It is the young who are leading the way in demographic changes. Just 1 in 5, 20%, of adults 18 to 29 are married, compared to 59% in 1960.”  Beyond the fact that we are waiting to start careers, complete graduate school, and figure out what we want in life, why is it this age group is putting it off or saying no?  I know why I am, but why are you?  I ask because based on these statistics, you are quite likely to be unmarried.

W. Bradford Wilcox, the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, told ABC News, “Marriage is less likely to anchor the adult life course”.  He went on to explain that the bar has been raised as people look for a soul mate, best friend, and someone with a good job all rolled into  one.  I don’t believe this actually has to do with the rate of marriage.  People will look for this in a significant other whether marriage is the end goal or not.

To keep things in perspective, the rate of marriage from 2009 to 2010 has only fallen 5%, while the rate of cohabitation (I hate that term!), single households, and single -parent households has risen.

While it may still be too early to tell if marriage is really seen as obsolete or becoming so, or if many are just putting it off, it is important to note a section of the population is still not legally able to marry in much of the country.  Would these statistics change is gay marriage became legal everywhere?  Is it possible gay marriage could actually save the institution of marriage?

The study is interesting but it seems to leave me with more questions than answers. What are the questions it left you asking?


*Photo Credit: Jeff Belmonte

Originally appeared on Fem2.0


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