I do: the words our culture uses to declare an eternal commitment to our significant other. Marriage is a legal or religious union undertaken by couples who desire to live as a wedlocked pair, til death do us part. While the tradition of marriage was once seen as a paradigm value or even necessity, Millennials view that commitment differently. Young people are taking into account a variety of factors before walking down the aisle. The desire for commitment still exists, but the act of marriage often happens later in life.
The National Marriage Project reports that the average marrying age now is higher than ever in history – 27 for women and 29 for men. Pew Research Center reports that 26 percent of Millennials born after 1982 are married, a 21 percent drop in the marriage rate from the years 1960 to 2011. If current marriage trends continue, 25 percent of young adults ages 25 to 34 will never marry by 2030, reports Pew Research.
Scott Hall, a family and consumer sciences professor at Ball State University, conducted a study on Millennials view marriage. He found that young people are willing to get married but are cautious to make the commitment due to an increasing divorce rate. Others view marriage as a lifestyle in order to have a family. But what’s new is an individualistic attitude instead than a team mentality in considering marriage partners.
“Over the past 50 years, marriage has become more about individual expression and gratification than it was, perhaps, in the past,” Scott said.
Even within the past decade, views on marriage have shifted because of attitudes toward divorce, unwed parenthood, and same-sex marriage, Scott said. Marriage is now centered on adult rights and not as child-focused as seen in previous decades.
Glenn Greiner, a pastor at Union Chapel in Muncie, has also noticed a change in individuals’ views on marriage. “People look at marriage from a more self-centered perspective. Before they thought, ‘what can I do to make the marriage work?’ Now, it’s ‘what can this person do to make me happy?’” Glenn said. “Commitment level has gone down over the years.”
Like Scott, Glenn also notes that fear in the face of a rising divorce rate dissuades people from making a marriage commitment. “Fear keeps people from doing it – fear of falling apart,” Glenn said.
But young people have more practical qualms with tying the knot than just a fear of commitment. Many Millennials prioritize financial and career stability before settling down with a significant other. Pew Research reports 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. The National Marriage Institute states that delaying marriage allows Millennials to finish their education and establish themselves as financially independent.
The National Center for Biotechnology Information reports financial stress causes more arguments and tension in a relationship, often causing them to breakup. NCBI also shows that a cohabiting couple who is financially stable is more likely to get married. Many young couples are trying cohabitation to help ease their financial challenges by living together.
Torie Pace, 22, and her boyfriend Taz Cassidy are one such couple. They have been dating for five years and have often discussed marriage, but are waiting to marry until they are financially stable. They signed a lease together before Torie’s senior year of college. But after graduating in May 2015, they each moved back home to live with their respective families. Ultimately, with a 40-minute drive separating them, the couple decided to move in together.
“We wanted to get married first, but everything takes time and money,” Torie said. “Unfortunately, we can’t have it all right now, so we made a choice and bought a lovely home to spend our future in and hope to get married in the next year or two.”
Like Torie and Taz, many Millennial couples are opting to cohabitate for longer periods of time before getting married or without marrying at all. In fact, according to the Pew Research Current Population Survey from 2013, 24 percent of the never-married population between the ages of 25 and 34 are living with their partner. The survey found that 33 percent of those cohabitating end up marrying, nine percent break up, and the remaining 57 percent continue to live together but never marry legally.
Pastor Glenn acknowledges that many couples see benefits to having a period of cohabitation for short-term financial reasons. But he thinks that viewing the relationship while cohabitating as a test run can potentially be harmful.
“Cohabitation implies a lack of commitment,” Glenn says. “It’s just a trial run. Being married is more than just being roommates, or sexual partners. You share life together, and that takes a huge commitment.”
But some studies show that delaying marriage is beneficial to both partners. The National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia wrote a report, “Knot Yet: The Benefits and Cost of Delayed Marriage in America.” It discussed several benefits of waiting to get married, including decreased likeliness to divorce. They also report that college-graduated women who stay single until 30 earn $18,000 more annually.
The rate of divorce has decreased by 10 percent from its all-time high in the 1980s with a 50 percent divorce rate. Divorce is less likely to happen to those who marry in their mid-20s or 30s because they are more mature and financially stable. Another benefit of delaying marriage is getting established in a career, but delaying children as a result, according to the report. Taking time to explore their passions before starting a family could leave some young people more fulfilled in their careers later.
Though they are postponing the commitment, Millennials still see marriage in their future. The National Marriage Projects reports 80 percent of young adults view marriage as an important part of their life.
Rev. Cheryl Grice, a wedding officiant and owner of Muncie’s New Destination Weddings, explained how in the 10 years she’s officiated ceremonies she has noticed them getting shorter but no difference in the age of people are getting married. The ages of couples requesting her services start at 18 years old.
“The more expensive ceremonies are done by people in their mid-20s. A lot of the older couples prefer to do it at their homes with their families,” Cheryl said. The ceremonies are slightly personalized, but couples now focus more on the reception. Her most common wedding ceremonies are the less expensive ceremonies and elopements.
Still, there are couples who marry for traditional, family-based reasons. The National Marriage Project reports 38 percent of women are married by age 25 while 48 percent have had a child. Katy Sebastian, 22, gave birth to her first-born and got engaged to her boyfriend, Mike, in July 2014. A month after the birth of her son, Katy moved into her future-in-laws’ renovated basement. The basement is set up as a mini apartment. They have their own bedroom, a kitchen, one bath, a living room and a washing machine and dryer. Their rent-free apartment gave them an opportunity to save up for their wedding and a future home.
“Well, we wanted to complete everything. We had a child and we live together, so the next logical step was to get married. It just tied it all together,” Katy said.
In May 2015, Katy and Mike married each other in front of their closest family and friends. Money did not play an issue in their decision. They love each other and did what they thought was best for their family. The couple are now looking to purchase their first home so they can have a place to themselves, their son Cameron, and more room for future children and their Saint Bernard, Lily.
Katy and Mike’s plan to marry for the benefit of their family is more in line with traditional marriage models. Sacrificial love, as explained by Pastor Glenn, is the most certain way to build a strong marriage foundation.
“For Christians, marriage is love sacrificially. The amount of love you give determines how much love you receive. When you hold back, you diminish your ability to receive love,” Glenn said. “Glue in the marriage is the love that you feel for each other – the willingness to put them in front of you. The commitment is very deep, but it brings great peace and joy.”
As Millennial views on love and commitment change, couples will continue to marry, but will do so on their own terms. The financial burden caused by the necessity of college for career advancement causes them to consider settling down more discriminately. With a declining divorce rate, delaying marriage may prove to be culturally beneficial.