The institution of marriage, in America, is becoming less popular. This shift is occurring as wedding hype is escalating and equal marriage is gaining ground. Interesting, eh?
Several European cultures have long eschewed legal marriage for cohabitation (presumably, an arrangement which more Americans are embracing.) Cohabitation is so popular in the United Kingdom that I have heard Brits often substitute the word “partner” for “spouse” when discussing their legally wed better half. Of course, Europeans cohabitate differently than we do. While American are serial monogamists, moving from committed relationship to committed relationship, Europeans (by and large) treat their cohabitation as it were marriage and are in it for the long haul. Of course, they have laws and policies which support this paradigm. I’m not certain which came first; habit or attitude.
The American change in marital statistics is intriguing, as it seems to have happened in somewhat of a cultural vacuum. “The number of unmarried Americans has reached a historic high, as the census also found that 30 percent of Americans have never been married, the largest percentage in the past 60 years.” Sixty years. In other words, since 1951. Think of all the phenomenal cultural shifts that have occurred since 1950 (kinda mind blowing.) Yet, the decline in marriage is happening now. Why? Some might point to a celebrity culture which embraces “all the benefits of marriage without the pesky commitment of marriage” lifestyle. But I would debate that one; perhaps with the ghosts of Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy or Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett. Yes, there were many many more examples, but can you think of any couples more romantic and brimming with glamor?
I am going to go out on a (trembling precarious) limb here and posit that there is a direct link to the decline in American marriages and to the development delay of our most recent crop of young adults.
Since the dawn of time, children have been looking longingly towards the cave door. Thousands of generations ago, adolescents were grumbling; “when I have my own fire, I’m gonna do it totally different man.” Children have embraced their primal genetically preordained imperative to flee, until very very recently. The result of the last twenty (plus) years of children ruled households, has resulted in (surprise!) childhood seeming far more attractive than adulthood. Hence, the 28 year old in your basement.
Most of us grew up in a time before children’s: clothing stores, hair salons, furniture stores, and restaurants. Seriously, where DO these kids get the cash? There was a bold thick line between the adult world and the world in which we (as children) inhabited. Parents’ lives ruled the household, and the schedule of the children was integrated into the household (versus setting the entire tone of the household.) Besides the risk of raising a generation of Veruca Salts, the inherent danger in a child-centric upbringing is that it makes the adult world look pretty shabby in comparison. If you have all the benefits of adulthood as a child (dinner, theatre, vacations, authority, power) why venture into the demanding world of adulthood? Is it any wonder that college students are calling/texting their parents everyday? Who the hell wants to dive into a world in which you will be ruled by children? Am I the only one who found Lord of the Flies to be the scariest book ever?!
Which bring us to foregoing marriage, while living together, perhaps buying property and even having children. It’s all the benefits of marriage without the scary grown-up commitment (cue Veruca Salt.) My objection to these arrangements is purely based on legal (lack of) protection for all parties involved. And to be perfectly honest, I always find it abhorrent to see people sleepwalking though life. I find it hard to believe that most adults involved in non-legal relationships involving children are really being their best selves.
No one is offering predictions on where these marriage trends are going. If the decline is in fact the start of a major cultural shift, it will be interesting to watch what occurs when the children of the cohabitants come of age. Will they be the generation who, presumably raised in a child-centric household by adults not fully buying into the notion of adulthood, become the Eisenhower generation? Or will marriage become as quaint and anachronistic as “coming out parties?” Will it be left to the LGBT community to redefine marriage and make it relevant for the mid-twenty-first century? Whatever the future of marriage, my hope is that our laws and policies catch up to those of our friends across the pond. Children should have all the protections of the institution of marriage regardless of current cultural fashion.