Spring has arrived and love is in the air. The weather’s nice, birds are chirping, and everyone seems to be ready and willing to get their mix and mingle on with a newfound someone or a longtime soulmate. But for millennials in particular, it seems there’s a generational disconnect with finding that special someone.
According to a new study by the Urban Institute, millennials (those born between 1980 and 1990) are holding out on the big “M”—marriage. Researchers found that the percentage of millennials tying the knot by the age of 40 will fall lower than any previous generation of Americans. Not only will millennials be the biggest “singles” generation in history, but research indicates that the marital status will split the generation into distinct haves and have-nots.
The study specifically measures race, ethnicity and educational attainment of men and women. The Great Recession is one of the reasons the study attributes to such a drastic decline in marriage rates. Millennials want to get hitched, researches quip, but have had to put their vows on the back burner because of the economic crisis. Millennials are less economically secure, and many have become more focused on attaining higher education and securing a job instead of drowning themselves in the financial woes of paying for a wedding.
“Twenty years ago, the couples’ parents were the ones paying for the wedding,” says 26-year-old Damaly Shepard. “This generation, more often than not, has to foot their own bill. So now, you must have the job or career to support what you want in order to get married. And on top of it all, having college debt is in no way a place to start off a marriage.”
For millennials pursuing higher education and building careers in place of getting married at a traditional age, marriage seems like a very likely possibility. The Urban Institute researchers find that marriage rates are higher for college graduates (who earn more, and therefore tend to marry one another).
Researchers projected that, if the post-recession rate continues, the number of millennials who marry by age 40 could drop at least 12% more among current 40-year-olds. On an even bleaker note, the study indicates that Black and Hispanic women are both expected to get married far less or later than White women. The study goes on to predict that marriage rates will decline more for Black women than for Black men because men’s marriage rates tend to peak at later ages.
On a more practical scale, the idea that marriage culture is changing is by far a large factor. Twenty- and thirtysomethings are breaking through and forging their own paths with marriage as a backdrop. Some of the large differences come with the generational difference of moral standpoints when it comes to sex before marriage, “shacking up,” having children out of wedlock and the importance of monogamy.
“Our generation doesn’t value monogamy,” says 23-year-old Nicole Fray. “We think we have all this time, when in reality, the years are beginning to fly by. We recognize too late the value of building with one individual, not realizing the right person can help us build ourselves individually while at the same time building and growing together.”
For some millennials who grew up with a religious background, the importance of marriage is sacred. But the idea of marriage still seems like a far-reaching goal at the moment. Kelsie Bonaparte (23) says, “I grew up in a church where marriage is significant and is portrayed as ‘tradition’ amongst my people. The thought of marriage is amazing. Although I want to get married and have a family someday, marriage is not a priority for me right now. Even still, I have morals, values and a worth that lead me to believe I will be married one day to an incredible man.”
The researchers concluded that, “many of these millennials will not recover in the future from the opportunities they have missed as young adults.” It’s easy to feel discouraged by what statistics project about future possibilities, but the reality is, they don’t fully reflect all possible futures. One way to look at it is from the stance of 22-year-old Imani Lewars: “If marriage happens it happens. If not, then I’m cool with that too,” she says.
Being content with whichever direction your life leads is definitely one perspective. Another outlook is to remain hopeful about the possibilities and look to people defying the odds as motivation. Dominic Alexander is doing just that. As for these statistics, he remains unbothered. “I’m 29 and in September I’ll be celebrating my seventh year wedding anniversary,” he says.
While the dynamics surrounding the institution of marriage have certainly changed, at least its aspirational value hopefully hasn’t.
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