Last week, PEW Research Center published another red alert for humanity: the cherished institution of marriage is crumbling! Or at least, that seems to be what all these reports about dwindling marriage rates seem to imply (ironically crushing all the homophobes bullshit warnings about same-sex marriages being the thing that would ruin the institution of marriage). On Friday, it was part of the Daily Number: 26 percent. As in, 26 percent of 20-somethings got married in 2008 compared to 68 percent in 1960. But apparently, it ain’t just the young folks. Stemming from a joint study by Pew and TIME Magazine looking at marriage rates over a period of nearly 40 years, between 1960 and 2008. Way back in 1960, 72 percent of adults (ages 18 or older) were married compared to just a wee 15 percent that never married. By 2008, marriage rates dropped to 52 percent, and the Never Marrieds increased to 27 percent.
Of course, these figures often follow with opinion polls about the perceived state of marriage. More people (though not yet a majority, according to PEW’s results) agree with the statement that “marriage is becoming obsolete.” Commonly held definitions of Family have changed, too, as co-habitation is on the rise.
The last part tends to negate any need for delving into examples of a tragic dating scene. One marred by the perpetual dance with the flighty and egregiously socially awkward (the Britcom Pulling captured all that perfectly), though some of those with commitment in their blood are stuck in that rut. But, apparently, people are getting together. Living together, in fact! And this seems to be a common route I’ve observed at least among many of my friends. The natural progression being… find someone, see if you can tolerate living with them, and considerations of marriage and etc. follow somewhere down the road. Reversing the order of the last two is just crazy talk!
There’s plenty of explanations for the decline in marriages (some are hinted on in the PEW/TIME report). For one thing, a lot of those 20-somethings (and I still get to include myself among this group for another year, and a few more after that when I start lying about my age), and 30-somethings (ahem… ha ha!), were raised by divorcees and grew up in households of second and third marriages. Divorce wasn’t suddenly a naughty word that was whispered. It was common practice, and it didn’t ruin people’s lives en masse. But, it must have had some effect on those kids’ perception of marriage, perhaps dulling the delusion of eternal bliss and providing incentive to seriously think about what we are getting ourselves into if and when we do we finally make that plunge into lifelong commitment. You know, like that nagging little moment at the end of The Graduate where, AFTER Ben’s (Dustin Hoffman) dramatic interruption of Mrs. Robinson’s daughter’s wedding, the two kids are riding the bus and the expression on their faces gradually changes to doubt.
But you know… not quite so negative.
Maybe that explains why these same friends have announced marriages to people they’ve known intimately for six or seven years, and maybe lived with for a good portion of that. So what’s wrong with testing the waters for a few years? In fact, others in those same households of divorcees and second and third marriages may have in the end questioned the entire logic of marriage, not consider those living situations a dress rehearsal at all, but a bona fide performance. For what is the purpose of officiating the relationship? Legal benefit, maybe. Before it was something you did lest you incur the wrath of orthodox followers who saw single kids in love as sinful heathens. But the weight of those institutions have changed.
But marriage isn’t exactly dead, as evidenced by the fact that we can’t seem to find an officiant who isn’t booked for two or three other ceremonies on the day we’re planning to get married. But there’s less of a necessity behind it (even when pregnancy is involved), and for those youngins getting married these days, it’s probably motivated less by “have to” or “need to,” and more for reasons of a symbolic commitment.