General Question

ibstubro's avatar

Is all the fuss about "traditional marriage" helping turn kids away from marriage?

Asked by ibstubro (11857 points ) February 15th, 2014

In 1960, more than 70 percent of all adults were married, including nearly six in ten twentysomethings. Half a century later, just 20 percent of 18–29-year olds were married in 2010. Once marriage was the norm for young America, now it’s becoming the exception.

How big of a factor do you think the on-going fight about maintaining “traditional marriage” has on kids getting hitched?

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42 Answers

glacial's avatar

It’s funny that you ask this around the same time as your question about advertising. I’ll give the same answer – I think it has no effect. I think the decision to either marry or not marry is most strongly influenced by family tradition – keeping in mind that those traditions will differ on both sides of the family. I can’t imagine anyone’s desire to marry or not marry being influenced by what they see on the news.

newtscamander's avatar

I think the fight makes you think about the advantages and disadvantages more, just because you are confronted with the topic by the media or your surroundings in general on a daily basis.
Also, it is generally not as much of a taboo to be sexually active before marriage anymore, or to be pregnant without a husband, which is why couples don’t get pressured into marriage by society as much anymore.

Cruiser's avatar

When over 50% of marriages end in divorce and the experience kids have when their parents break up is often bitter with all sorts of drama and traumatizing events unfolding before their very eyes does little to color the institution of marriage in a good light and then no wonder the current younger generations shun this institution of marriage.

ibstubro's avatar

Kids tend to rebel against authority/‘the norm’ though, @glacial, and they could see not marrying as rebellion. If family tradition was the biggest factor, the rate of marriage should remain fairly even.

I agree that the pressure is all but gone for ‘shotgun’ marriages, @newtscamander. Interesting about possibly making them think about it more.

Agreed, @Cruiser, the explosion in divorce since 1960 certainly influenced the marriage rate among 20-somethings today.

dxs's avatar

I looked at the relationship my parents had with eachother and that really made me not want to marry. Seeing myself as my dad would have especially given me nightmares. I’m used to doing things on my own and never had any desire for a relationship with anyone. Plus, the thought of possible children scares me, too. I feel like I will be so much more productive on my own without having anyone else to worry about.

Coloma's avatar

I was married at 21 and divorced at 43 and I certainly have changed/questioned my programming. It was just what most of us did that grew up in the 60’s and early-mid 70’s.
My daughter is now 26 and has no driving obsession with marriage. I think that it has more to do with challenging the status quo and many younger people are enlightened enough to realize that very few relationships will last forever and that given the way humans change and grow over the years that a “til death do us part” ideology is, at best, unrealistic most of the time and at worst, a confining and often stagnant arrangement.
Also the divorce rates and yes, family tradition.

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

I don’t think that marriage is the exception, or that it’s becoming passé. Most people get married at some point during their lives. Now that same-gender marriage is becoming so common, I’m guessing that the numbers will increase.

People are, however, delaying marriage. You say that just 20% of people age 18–29 were married during 2010, and that doesn’t surprise me; under-30s are young. Personally, I was age 34 when I got married. I think that the 20-year-old bride and groom of 1960 would be today’s 30-year-old newlyweds.

hearkat's avatar

I think kids nowadays are a lot less “grown up” at 21 than they were in 1960, because of the indulgent western culture. I do suspect that the high number of divorces – often the homes they grew up in themselves, will make them more likely to be trepidatious about commitment.

Darth_Algar's avatar

Growing up I realized early on that I didn’t want to be like my parents – married and saddled with kids before I was old enough to legally have a beer*. Marriage wasn’t something that I ever really gave much thought to. Now, well into my mid-30s, I’ve been living with the same person for several years and we often call each other “husband” and “wife” although we’re not actually married.

(*Even now I wonder if my parents have ever truly been happy in their relationship or if co-dependency is what’s kept them together for 40 years.)

ibstubro's avatar

@dxs I mirrored your sentiments nearly exactly past 40. I’m now 10 years into a relationship and still not 100% sold.

I was of that generation and bucked the trend, @Coloma.

I wondered the same thing about same-sex marriage reversing the trend, @SadieMartinPaul. And I agree that many more are comfortable waiting until later.

I hadn’t thought about the ‘grown up’ angle, @hearkat, but that’s a good observation that I agree with.

Co-dependency and stubbornness kept my parents together, @Darth_Algar. I honestly don’t remember a time they acted as though they liked each other, let alone love. My mother was “married 3 times, divorced twice and had a year old child by the time she was 21” in the 1950’s Midwest, as she liked to remind me. She was only dad’s second, but they were in it for hell or high water. We kids got most of the “hell” part.

stanleybmanly's avatar

I think mores shift as societies evolve. One summer when I was 19, I had a job stocking shelves in a supermarket. I remember the huge scandal when it was discovered that one of the check stand cashiers (a really gorgeous eyeful) was “living in sin” with her college student boyfriend. Management promptly fired her, which was probably a bad business decision, since half the men shopping in the place were probably there just to look at her. My point is that in the past, there were nearly irresistible societal pressures, particularly on women to marry. The rise of feminism and more importantly, THE PILL changed all of that. Women were free to experiment and have fun just like the fellas, and the lucky men who were in the path of that wave ( and enjoyed the benefits) smiled a lot. People now wait longer to be married, and it makes sense that someone in their 30s would be more capable of a sensible attitude regarding marriage than a 17 year old. Things are moving in the right direction.

ibstubro's avatar

For that and nearly all the reasons members listed above, you are probably right, @stanleybmanly.

johnpowell's avatar

My Aunt was born in 1950 and my mom in 1953. Both have said that the options were marriage, nurse, or teacher after completing high-school. Pretty much in that order. They were also very poor so that should be factored into their options.

So at least for me the job factor in the equation is that woman have a lot more opportunities now. My sister had a kid at 17 and still managed to hold down a job making 50K a year a few years later at Symantec answering your stupid question.

JLeslie's avatar

Does traditional marriage mean straight marriage? I’m not sure I am interpreting the question right.

I think fewer people get married before the age of 29, because more people go to college than years ago, because women have their own careers, because adolescence is a much longer time than previously in our cuture, and because we have learned getting married very young leads to higher rates of divorce. Moreover, some groups in our society seem to not be getting married as much for reasons that probably are not completely clear. African Americans get married less often then white Americans; a cultural shift that can possibly be explained by economic reasons. In fact economics is how the stats should be divided up, probably mentioning race is not even necessary.

The thing that I think is most damaging is people think 50% of marriages end in divorce. The stats right now are around 30% of first marriages end in divorce. Here is an article that discusses the statistics of divorce. I think you will find the article very interesting.

talljasperman's avatar

In Mexico you can get a three year trial marriage.

Silence04's avatar

They are just getting married later in life. In the 1960s people entered adulthood much sooner in life. Emerging adulthood now spans from ages 18–31.

bolwerk's avatar

I think it’s a simple fact of modern civilization that marriage is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Traditionally marriage was an agrarian institution. Households would trade women for property, status, herd animals, or some other chattel. This still happens today, even in western countries, especially among aristocrats.

The USA hasn’t been a predominantly agrarian country for almost a century. Of course marriage is declining in importance, especially for the middle class. Maybe the slopebrows who believe in “traditional marriage” are helping that along, but they aren’t causing it.

JLeslie's avatar

@bolwerk Do you think paring up and being with someone forever is unrealistic? What about for raising children, do you see any value in parents being married?

bolwerk's avatar

@JLeslie: probably varies by person. The high divorce rate implies it often is. There are people who are lifetime monogamous, but most people opt for serial monogamy. Fewer still opt for polyamory, open relationships, or other variations.

Let’s also face it: whenever lifetime monogamy was invented, lives were often much shorter.

Divorce seems unnecessarily nasty to me, but there are certainly divorced or never-married parents who co-parent just fine. Marriage has a few practical purposes for legal reasons (presumptions of paternity, sharing property, etc.) but I don’t see anything critical aboutr it to raising children.

bolwerk's avatar

Also, I’m neither here nor there about the religious aspect. That obviously has meaning for some people.

JLeslie's avatar

@bolwerk Most first marriages stay together. 70% if you looked at my link. More like 80% if the woman is college educated. Although, I will conceded that a percentage of those are unhappy.

Married people on average have more wealth than singles. That is not a comment on wealthy people getting married, although the already wealthy do tend to marry, but it is saying being married helps build wealth.

I’m not trying to convince anyone to get married, I am fine with people who are happy in their singledom. If I found myself single again I would not be running to get married.

I think parents who never lived together and were never married are not likely to coparent very well. It can happen, but usually the father is fairly removed. Divorce is a different situation.

ibstubro's avatar

I do get your point, @johnpowell, but clerk and accounts/booking were also big options at the time. I know because that covers Grams and mom.
(Grams thought she hit the big time when she sold her home in 1980 for – can you imagine! – $5,000. It was the family gathering place, double lot, Sears house bought 60 years later, 3rd hand.)
But, your sister didn’t have to have a shot-gun wedding in order to get by.

@JLeslie, I think “because women have their own careers, because adolescence is a much longer time than previously in our cuture, and because we have learned getting married very young leads to higher rates of divorce” pretty much nails the question, but don’t tell anybody. It inhibits future response.

@Silence04 If you think “Emerging adulthood now spans from ages 18–31,” is that a step forward or back? Is there a Fluther Question there?

Excellent point @bolwerk that “Traditionally marriage was an agrarian institution.”

bolwerk's avatar

@JLeslie: It says, “Rather than viewing marriage as a 50–50 shot in the dark it can be viewed as having a 70 percent likelihood of succeeding.” That’s an ambiguous claim at best. But even if it’s true, a 30% chance of failure for a ‘til death do we part promise seems…rather high. And between the people who have partners die and the people who marry later or both, it’s probably not a very profound point. And then, if you fucked up the first time and try again – well, why don’t those people get it right?

I don’t know what percentage of women are college-educated, but it’s probably well under 40%. These are the women who have the hardest times finding partners in the first place because of marital power dynamics and, well, men are not being educated at the time rate as women these days, and women haven’t been taught to “marry down.” If they delay marriage or don’t marry, they’re of course driving down the divorce rate.

@johnpowell is right too. That site seems fishy, and near as I can tell that article is not refereed.

@ibstubro: obviously people aren’t valuing trading women for lifestock anymore, yet marriage still has many of the same drawbacks it always had – at the very least the risk of a divorce. There was a time when women needed marriage for support.

Abelard and Heloise aside (12th century), I think it’s fair to say the notion that marriage could be for love is a modern one, as in after the 15th century. And as a wildly diffused “value,” even that’s probably 20th century.

jerv's avatar

I think @Cruiser nailed it. It used to be that most people married once, often fairly young, and stuck together regardless of the quality of the marriage. Now that it’s socially acceptable to end marriages that just aren’t working, many think longer and harder about tying the knot and running the risk of a messy divorce just like their parents had. My own mother having been divorced twice is part of the reason I didn’t walk down the aisle until I’d been with the same woman for longer than either of my mother’s marriages lasted.

1TubeGuru's avatar

Religion used to be a big factor in all of this. young people know that the statistical odds are against having a successful marriage and many of them are not religious so why even bother to get married?

JLeslie's avatar

@bolwerk The current college graduation rate is about 30% for the US for a four year degree. Many more people have some college, I don’t know that stat. Slightly more women then men have been getting degrees in the last twenty years, so the percentage of women who have a bachelors must be near 40% I am thinking. I’m not arguing, just giving information. I simply was interested in your answer for why marriage has changed and become less necessary for lack of a better word, but I think human beings marry for more than just the practical reasons of running a household.

I agree women who are college educated marry later and just marrying later lowers the rate of divorce. But, the information I know of is that college educated women are more likely to marry than less educated women. This was not true 100 years ago.

As far as second marriages being more likely to fail I think there are a few reasons. One, people make the same mistakes over and over again. They pick a guy or girl that feels normal to them, and there are serious flaws in the dynamic or integrity of the relationship. It is very difficult for people to learn from their mistakes when it comes to relationships. Two, once divorced that person has shown they are willing to divorce. Like I said some first marriages stay together, but have problems. I think staying married is not the only stat that should be matter, being happily married should probably factor in and that would bring down some stats. Three, some people just need to be in a relationship and they don’t scrutinize well enough their partners.

Mind you, I am not judging in any way those who are divorced, this purely is from a sociological curiosity. I think getting a divorce is a good idea sometimes. Why stay in a relationship that makes you miserable or is abusive. When we pick a spouse it is impossible to predict everything that will happen in the future. Life takes twists and turns.

Cruiser's avatar

In 1960’s the fear of God kept many a couple married despite ruined abusive relationships. Plus the stigma of being a divorcee was like you were a broken somehow unfit human being. Then the 70’s came along and with it came Women’s Lib and women finally came out of the shadows and exerted their right to not be treated like shit by abusive husbands and that it was OK to pack your bags and leave lousy marriages. Thus began the ever increasing trend to eschew the bondage of religious constraints to stay in a marriage at all costs and further reduced the currency of the mantra….“till death do you part”. Many marriages today don’t even include those words in their vows anymore and I can’t remember the last time I heard them.

Paradox25's avatar

I’m not sure how to answer this without making assumptions. Some sources state that women want to get married more than men, and others state vice versa. Marriage wasn’t a tradition in my family for half of the men never gotten married. My maternal grand pap’s youngest brother didn’t get married until his sixties.

Perhaps with the fall of traditional gender roles marriage isn’t seen as important anymore. More younger people are more likely to be critical thinkers and less prone to religion so maybe that’s a factor too.

In the past there were bachelor taxes/penalties imposed on single men due to an epidemic of women not being able to find husbands in some states. Groups of single men protested these taxes.

bolwerk's avatar

@JLeslie: I have trouble seeing a crisis in marriage myself. I just think the institution is declining for the reasons I stated. I don’t really see a problem with a high divorce rate by itself. I see a problem with people’s expectations; they think relationships only matter if they are lifelong. Even if you think 2-parent marriages are ideal, the naked reality of having lots of kids who have non-married or multi-partner parents isn’t going away.

I often don’t agree with Dan Savage, but one smart thing he said was: people with a lifelong partner who cheat 3–4 times in the court of a lifetime aren’t bad at monogamy. They’re good at monogamy.

What distinguished the generation @Cruiser and @jerv mentioned – the post-WWII generation – that married young and formed generally lifelong partnerships? Memes? Blind acceptance that lifelong marriage was just that important? I don’t know, but two observations: (1) it probably never happened before simply because never before did so many people live so long and it hasn’t happened since and (2) not letting people escape unwanted marriages because it’s not socially acceptable probably just means a lot of miserable marriages without any perceivable gain.

JLeslie's avatar

@bolwerk People have been living long lives for a long time now. Stats for life expectancy we need to remember a lot of children died ans skewed the atats if the stats are using mean averages. In the last 50 years life expectancy has only changed a few years, yet marriage and divorce rates have changed more significantly.

Often couples who have been together 30+ years can’t imagine being without each other. There is a horrible stat that people who have been married many years die within six months of each other. They can’t live without each other. The risk of spouse dyingnwhen another dies is very real. Their chances go up significantly. So I can’t see how living to the age of 65 or 75 matters much, assuming the people married before age 30.

I don’t think there is a marriage crisis, but I think Americans want to ignore family is important. Not just marriage, extended family also. We tend to be more disconnected, and I think children have less interaction with adult relatives than they did generations ago. Simple family time, the love we feel from grandparents and aunts and uncles, and the guidance we can get from them when parents are not who a child wants to go to. I think when people are unmarried the extended family is more likely to not be as cohesive, let alone the parents. I think the dissolution of the family affects society negatively. However, it’s not all negative of course, and I am not generalizing our entire society, just making some generalizations of what I think does have some possible negative impact. It’s not marriage itself, not the piece of paper, single people can provide these things also, marriage just kind of has it built in. Of course some marriages ara mess, that is a different story.

bolwerk's avatar

@JLeslie: I know that life expectancy isn’t so bad in pre-agrarian and industrial/postindustrial societies. My understanding is it was significantly worse in agrarian societies – even for the wealthy, who often paradoxically had some of the worst diets. Infant mortality was still high until the 20th century, but by the late 19th century those who made it to adulthood had a pretty good chance at surviving to old age.

Still, nowhere near so many people lived so long under such circumstances until the second half of the 20th century, near as I can tell.

JLeslie's avatar

@bolwerk Making it past age 5 was a really big deal 100+ years ago, and then once a person was an adult they increased their likelihood again of living a “long life.” So, if someone made it to the marrying age even back 100 years ago they had a good chance of making past 50. Childhood diseases were a huge deal, and congenital diseases that we could not fix were obviously a big deal also.

bolwerk's avatar

@JLeslie: More importantly, with age, an average moving a few years effectively explodes the population of people to the right of the average (e.g., older people) because you can’t make more people born last year. The chances of making it to their 70s weren’t horrible by time the steam-industrial revolution was well under way – for perspective, that means people born after the U.S. Civil War didn’t have an awful chance of seeing the Great Depression or even World War II, and they might have toddled around with grandparents who were alive during the War of 1812.

Still, compare to now: if current longevity rates hold now they presumably have an expectancy putting them in their 80s and a “good chance” of living to 90, and an okay chance of making it to 100, which makes a tremendous difference in the sheer number of people who lived really long lives.

(BTW, I more or less agree with your last paragraph above. Another radical change probably was the diminishing importance of extended families in the postwar social upheaval. I’ve sometimes wonder how much of a factor it is in explaining late 20th century urban crime rates.)

JLeslie's avatar

@bolwerk I just think it doesn’t matter past 70’s, probably not even past 60’s, because I think (I don’t have data for this) once a couple makes it to age 60, they are staying together. There are some exceptions of course, and I think first marriages are still the more likely ones to stick even at those ages, unless the person was left a widow or widower from their first marriage.

My dad used to address the breakdown of the family in America when he taught. He really felt it was very negative for society and still does. He also looks at marriage and divorce rates among minorities, most soecifically black Americans. Back in the 59’s their statistics for marrage and divorce were very similar to white Americans, but now there is a statisically significant difference between the two populations. What I don’t know is the statistical difference between poor white and poor black people. If there is a subcultural divide even at the same economic level.

I want to add when I talk about marriage I am including gay marriage. In my first answer I asked if traditional marriage excludes gay marriage, or if the OP means the tradition of marriage. I still don’t know for sure. Gay marriage adds the complication of a child not having one of their biological parents living in the home or could even be a mystery. That can happen with heterosexual couples also in the case of fertility treatments, adoption, etc.

bolwerk's avatar

@JLeslie: Dunno how drastic it is, but: http://www.mprnews.org/story/2013/08/27/daily-circuit-empty-nest-divorce

I don’t really see any evidence for marriage/divorce being a socioeconomic problem. It might be connected to another socioeconomic problem, but by itself it doesn’t seem to be one.

talljasperman's avatar

Till debt do us part?

Gabby101's avatar

Well, in 1960, people still used the term “bastard” and living together was not acceptable. I would say society’s acceptance of sex and children outside the marriage is the reason people delay marriage or avoid it altogether. I’d also throw in the fact that women no longer need a man for absolute financial security.

I also think the idea of having a big ceremony to pronounce your lifelong love seems silly in the midst of so many divorces.

bolwerk's avatar

@Gabby101: true dat. Another thing: marriage used to be at least some assurance, though no guarantee, of paternity, which was important to know for legal reasons. DNA testing means it’s not needed for that anymore.

KNOWITALL's avatar

I think we know we can take care of ourselves and be independant now.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

I do not think it has anything to do with any fuss to hold or promote marriage, is it more to the decline of actually having to commit. Cohabitation and shacking up is made to seem more glamorous. In this ”me 1st culture” people are more concerned with their own happiness. Cohabitating allows them to move on when things get stale without much fanfare. Renting a relationship the mimics a marriage is made to be more appealing because it promise you can have your cake and eat it to, all without paying a dime for it. Media, and popular culture makes it a relationship centered on “me” and not “us”.

bolwerk's avatar

Re “Cohabitating allows them to move on when things get stale without much fanfare”: pretty selfish of the me-firsters not to include public institutions like courts in their relationship! And they’re gonna put divorce lawyers outta business if they don’t start divorcing. Ingrates!

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