What is Going Extinct: Divorce or Marriage?
By Esther Karpets
Until two weeks ago, I never expected to read headlines like “Oh Great, Millennials Are Killing Divorce Rates Now” and “New Study Finds Millennial Marriages Have Fewer Divorces.” A millennial myself, I grew up in the American society always hearing that one in two marriages will end in divorce and that the trend is only getting worse. To be honest, my first response to the headline was: “Wow, we are finally doing something right!” But that was before I realized the actual basis of plummeting divorce rates.
The main cause to the decrease in national divorce rates is because millennials are simply choosing not to get married. According to Pew Research Center, “26 percent of Millennials born after 1982 are married, a 21 percent drop in the marriage rate from the years 1960 to 2011.” In comparison to the prior generations, it looks like the millennial majority is holding off on making any serious commitments.
So Why The Cold Feet?
One of the largest generations, with the age range of about 21 to 37 year-olds, has evolved with differing views on marriage as a result of their perception on finances, parenthood and household life.
As the social expectation for higher education, a “real” career and financial independence becomes a norm, millennials are setting these life goals as a prerequisite to marriage.
Pew Research reports that “34 percent of adults ages 25 to 34 say financial security is the main reason for not being married, a 14 percent difference from adults 35 and older.” Millennials are putting a greater emphasis towards personal goals and self-success than anything else. On the other hand, Pamela Smock, a sociology professor at the University of Michigan, says, “The evidence shows that getting married increases wealth and income.” So in opposition to the majority’s view, married couples actually earn more money and spend more as a result.
With a change in the family dynamic involving single-parenting and children born out of wedlock, the relationship between marriage and children seems to be drifting further apart.
According to a Pew Research survey, 52 percent of millennials say that being a good parent is of utmost importance, but only 30 percent can say that about a successful marriage. Interestingly enough, 70 percent of unmarried 18 to 29 year-olds still want to get married and 74 percent want to have children. The slight difference in wanting children over marriage shows that some millennials would prefer to have a child without the ties of a marriage.
I think we’ve all heard millennials described as the generation that can’t make enough money to move out of their parents’ basement even after getting a college degree. But maybe the struggle for stability is a reality for millennials since they rank lowest in home ownership and rank highest as renters.
However, millennials not only prefer a different choice in homes, they also have a distinct view on the household itself. In 2013, 24 percent of never-married 25 to 34 year-olds were cohabiting with a partner. The survey then found that 33 percent of the cohabiting partners eventually got married, 9 percent broke up, and the other 57 percent never got married. As of 2016, millennials make up half of the cohabiting-couple households.
In honest reality, the plummeting divorce rates aren’t a result of a rising generation that values long-term commitment and a nuclear family dynamic, instead, it is the exact opposite.
Millennials are making life choices about finances, parenting and household activities that are more dramatic than any other generation. The repercussions of these choices will continue to change the nation’s divorce rate, create new family norms and make a greater division between the married and the unmarried millennials.
National Health Statistics Reports conclude that current cohabiting adults (ages 18-44) are more likely to have not received a high school diploma, to be Hispanic or non-Hispanic black, to have a lower household income, and to have more unintended pregnancies than a couple in a marital union. Scott Hall, a family and consumer sciences professor at Ball State University, said that, “Marriage is now centered on adult rights and not as child-focused as seen in previous decades.” In the past, the value of marriage was in the potential of a team. Today, however, the self-minded millennials seek freedom for personal gain before they make any cojoined commitments.
The relational decisions of millennials are affecting our society today. But are they wise decisions? Because according to the visible trajectory, something else is being destroyed alongside high divorce rates–the beauty of traditional marriage.