One of the more surprising facts to come out of the 2010 census, to my mind, was the change in married status of the age twenty-five to thirty-four population. Across the board this group had dropped from more than 65% in the 1960 census to about 25% fifty years later.
I must not be the only one surprised at this change, because NPR and last week’s Sunday Morning television show both did an interview piece relating to this. Their conclusion for underlying factors included: birth control and the consequent Sexual Revolution, economics and the resulting need for two income independence, a change in attitude by women as to their purpose in life, and, a little different spin from the above, freedom of women to provide their own financial support and determine their life style: “ I want to do what I want, when I want.”
Of interest is that the United States is following the pattern of life-style that has existed in Scandinavian countries since the end of World War Two. The number in Sweden and Denmark is about the same as ours, and has been for twenty years. Couples live lifetimes together, have children, some with hyphenated names, pass on inheritances and live socially acceptable lives, all without the benefit of rings or licenses.
I have two grown sons, one who has married twice, unsuccessfully, although the unions seemed to work, the first for five years, the second for thirteen. His younger brother remains unmarried at age forty, perhaps influenced by his brother’s history. When I asked the unmarried if he ever intended to change his state, he was strongly insistent that he would not. “The sex part isn’t really a problem, Dad,” he said, as if that explained everything away.
While pondering this, sitting in a Chicago bar, I started a discussion with a couple from Cleveland, visiting the city for a vacation, though why they chose Chicago in February with a negative chill factor, seemed to escape me. They were mid-thirties and have been living together for six years, have no plans for children, find no problems with finances though both hold blue-collar jobs, and in response to my question as to why no ring, stated simply they felt no need.
I married right out of Dental School and, although I had no accumulated wealth, quickly assumed responsibility as the sole breadwinner. We would have no children for five years, but it was not a planned thing. Security came from the fact that I remained in the Navy for twenty-five years (and had five years reserve service while in school) and then retired to the corporate world. We have remained married for fifty years now. Often asked how and why, Mary and I have different explanations. I contend that we have had a mutual respect for how our lives and selves have changed. Mary is more pragmatic, citing our Catholic faith and independence developed during long separations as better explanations.
Regardless of our state, my analysis of the drop in marriages leans toward a change in expectations. We expected to meet surprises and expected that we would change habits, locations, friends and family attachments as we framed our lives. Young people today seem unwilling to commit to change. They seem to want the freedom to opt out, if a change is unsettling. It is not so much that they are unwilling to make a commitment as that they are unable to commit for an indefinite period of time. The unknown brings fear into their lives in a way that precludes the pomp and circumstance of a wedding.
But my Cleveland couple said simply, “We have used the $20,000 or so a wedding would have cost in ways we find better.”
What do you think?