No, this isn’t an article on what you’re probably thinking. It’s true that much of the press these days is focused on whether or not too many people want to get married, (i.e. “Teh Gayz”) but there is a less advertised current of concern over the idea that marriage in general is on the decline and may, in fact, be on the way out. I noticed one editorial at CNN on the subject which cites some rather interesting statistics. It’s easy enough to dismiss the piece out of hand because the author is CNN anchor Carol Costello, but given the importance of the subject I’m not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Is there a future for our country, as the author suggests, where we see an America virtually marriage-free, with everyone happily single?
There is a video available of a small focus group discussion she held with a bunch of millennials (including many young women) who were asked to share their feelings, plans and dreams regarding matrimony. If the results are in any way common among young folks today it’s more than a little disturbing.
“I didn’t go to college for four years to be a mom,” 21-year old Candace Monacelli told me. “There’s no housewife degree. I’ve worked my butt off for four years to get this degree. You want to use it. You want to be successful. You want to have that happy part of your life as well.”
Jackie Demate, also 21, agreed. “I would have a very hard time justifying spending $20,000 on a wedding when I could go to Europe.”
First of all, when you’re talking to 21 year old students or recent graduates I think you’re skewing the pool of respondents a bit. Even the subset of kids who are talking about marriage as a possibility at that point probably includes a fair number who only think of it as a hypothetical. While it was very common in my parents’ and grandparents’ generations, getting hitched straight out of your teens is far less common today, and that’s probably a good thing. (I should pause here and note with respect that my paternal grandparents were married before either of them would have been old enough to vote under today’s laws and they lasted until grandma’s death more than 75 years later. It happens, folks.)
Putting past generations aside for the moment, the younger you get married, the tougher it can be in the modern world. How many kids have really matured by the age of 21 to the same degree that folks had to manage during more hardscrabble times? Jumping in too early can probably add to the inherent stress levels if the couple continues to evolve in their attitudes and desires and they “grow apart.” But even if they wait longer, there are no sure bets in life. In some other parts of the world, people seem to have wandered further and further away from the idea that marriage is a cornerstone of a successful society.
Perhaps it is selfish to establish a career, travel and have a child on your own. Or, maybe it’s exactly right.
Scandinavians are just about there. According to USA Today: “In Norway … 82% of couples have their first child out of wedlock. The numbers are similarly high for Sweden and Denmark. While many couples marry after having the first or second child, it’s clear marriage in parts of Scandinavia is dying.”
The article also points out that “Norway ranked first and Sweden second in the United Nations’ quality-of-life survey for 2004, which rates per capita income, education levels, health care and life expectancy in measuring a nation’s well-being. The USA came in eighth.”
Pardon my skepticism, but I don’t think I’m going to entrust the United Nations to be the ultimate judge of “quality of life.” I would venture to say that Norway and Sweden both have more than their fare share of problems as a society, and if people seem happier there are government controlled factors behind at least part of that.
In the end, I think the species could certainly survive without marriage, but I’m not sure if the society would. I don’t think that anyone has to get married, nor should the government force them to, but the basic family unit certainly benefits from a stable home which lasts for multiple generations and keeps the clan safe and close. Whether you view marriage in the light of a person’s relationship with God or simply from some inner need for a deeper, more spiritual commitment which will last a lifetime, I believe it answers some fundamental need which exists in all of us. You can live without if if you have to (or choose to) but it will probably remain one of those “holes” in your life which will stare back at you across the years.