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The Marriage Problem
Marriage is a big commitment, there’s no doubt about it. It’s natural to be a little nervous before jumping in. But the trends and recent studies suggest that more people today seem not only anxious about the prospect of marriage, they are shunning it. Of the various ways in which one can forge a family (marriage, cohabitation, or having a child without being married), cohabitation has become the most common.(1)
One reason for this increased interest in cohabitation over marriage may not be the fear of the union itself, so much as a concern for the possibility of its collapse. In other words, it may be the looming prospect of divorce that’s driving more people to choose the question “Will you move in with me?” over “Will you marry me?”
At the same time, research continues to show that marriage has measureable benefits, both mental and physical over cohabitation. This is particularly true as one ages. Since it doesn’t seem as though the marriage rate will turn around any time soon, we have to wonder how to reconcile the fact that young people are declining to marry while older people are reaping its benefits.
No One Wants A Kim Kardashian Marriage
Young people voice a number of concerns about getting married, and these concerns may drive them to cohabitate rather than marry.(2) In fact, when quizzed about the benefits they see in living together vs. getting married, people who opt for cohabitation over marriage tend to cite the fear of divorce as the central reason not to get married.(2)
We’ve known for a number of years that young people have concerns about their ability to maintain in a successful marriage. For example, among high school seniors in the late 90s, about 40% felt that if they did marry, they were not convinced that they would stay married to the same person throughout their whole lifetime.(3)
Similarly, among adults, many people choose cohabitation as a way to “test-drive” the relationship before getting married.(2) Others fear marriage in a larger sense, and opt to live together instead of tying the knot at all. Even people who have no personal experience with divorce (say, of their parents or friends) are concerned about it happening to them.
So why are they worried? “That may be because there are so many high profile stories about divorce — the Kim Kardashians, and J. Lo,” says Sharon Sassler, Associate Professor in the Department of Policy Analysis and Management at Cornell University. Sassler studies people’s attitudes towards marriage and divorce.
What also doesn’t help is the media’s constant repetition of the statistic that one out of two marriages is destined to fail, she says, since this statistic is inaccurate: Divorce rates have been declining over the last twenty years. “It seems that the contentious nature of how relationships are portrayed worry today's young adults,” according to Sassler. How the media may affect our perceptions of marriage has not been worked out, but given the fact that it’s the unhappy rather than the happy endings that are typically brought to our attention, it seems possible that this may have something to do our changing beliefs about marriage itself.