A recent generational study on marriage conducted by the Pew Research Center paints a revealing and fascinating picture of the modern couple and family, and of the differences between modern couples and those of generations past. Some of its major findings on changing marital norms underscore our belief at Foodie Registry that modern newlyweds have different needs than couples of the past.
The study found that marriage overall is on the decline, with about half (52%) of American adults in 2008 being married, compared to 7 in 10 (72%) adults being married in 1960. This decline is largely driven by young adults who are both delaying marriage and entering into less-traditional family arrangements. The changing average age at which people first marry has risen about five years in the past half century and is now at the highest ever recorded – 28 years old for males. In 1960, two-thirds (68%) of all twenty-somethings were married, while in 2008 only 26% were married – a striking generational difference. It goes without saying that some of this decline can be attributed to the fact that marriage is not an option for all couples, particularly same-sex couples who live in states that don’t allow same-sex marriage. The majority of young adults however support marriage equality.
As marriage rates have declined, premarital cohabitation has risen. Rates of cohabitation have nearly doubled since 1990, and 44% of all adults say they have cohabited at some point in their lives. Of those who did, about two-thirds say they thought of it as a step toward marriage.
Another marital norm that has changed significantly is spousal roles. In the last 50 years, women have risen dramatically in the workforce, from just 33% in 1960 to 47% by 2009, and have actually begun to outpace men in educational attainment. About six in ten wives work today, nearly double the amount who worked in 1960. The rise of educated women in the workforce has certainly contributed its share to the trend of marrying later in life (though this trend applies to both men and women), but it has also reduced the need for economic security as a (once primary) reason for marriage. In fact, the study found that for most respondents, love far exceeded money as a reason to get married, where 93% of married adults said that love and then companionship were very important reasons to get married, while only 31% cited financial stability.
We think these trends are positive and point to the changing face of the modern couple: more diverse, independent, and accepting of alternative (though maybe not alternative for long) lifestyles. Even though the institution of marriage is experiencing a decline, the study found it’s still regarded as an important and desirable institution, and public attitudes toward marriage remain optimistic.