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Modern romance: Gen-Y is late to the wedding, but wants marriage

Gen-Y is is rewriting modern romance as the path to marriage gets longer but more certain: Young people want more certainty before the wedding.

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Generational theorists say that Gen-Y is a "civic generation," similar to the GI generation, which was raised in the Great Depression and served in World War II. Civic generations are generally more group-oriented than other generations and worry about being financially stable because they come of age during difficult economic times or war, says Mike Hais, a market researcher, consultant, and coauthor with Morley Winograd of "Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation Is Remaking America." And the average age for marriage in the GI generation was higher than for the two generations that followed.

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"Civic generations just don't feel they are necessarily ready to get married as soon as other generations do," says Mr. Hais.

Civic generations also don't wait around for the phone to ring. Being "group oriented" means they get support from an entire community of friends and family, not just one significant other. That's easy to do when social circles are large and often limitless thanks to Facebook, Google+, and Twitter; and when texting and mobile apps allow people to tell their world instantly where they are having dinner, shopping, or seeing a movie. If they want companionship or support, it's at the other end of their laptop or smart phone.

Millennials' caution toward commitment mirrors their caution toward life generally, probably the result of protective parents (who carefully coached and tutored them through childhood), growing up in the age of terrorism, living through the Great Recession, and being exposed to a media culture focused on danger. A Pew survey captured what it calls the generation's "wary eye on human nature": Two-thirds say, "You can't be too careful" when dealing with other people.

The research also shows that this generation values children, family, lifelong commitment, and, yes – despite trepidation – marriage. In fact, their top two priorities in that Pew study are "being a good parent" and "having a successful marriage."

Despite those traditional values, Gen-Y is also liberated in many ways, having come of age 40 years after the sexual revolution, which destigmatized premarital sex. Add to that the advancement of women in the labor force and better birth control technologies and you have options for nontraditional courtship, says Ms. Smock.

Women aren't looking for financial stability through marriage the way they did in the past, and today they are just as concerned about their careers as men. In fact, Millennials may be the first female-dominated generation in American history, says Hais, with women in many respects outachieving men. He cites data estimating that 60 percent of those receiving bachelor's degrees and 56 percent of those receiving doctorates in 2016 will be women.

But being financially self-sufficient doesn't mean young women never want to marry or have children, it simply delays the need to do so. And it means Gen-Y can write its own relationship and life script, says Smock. "They feel free to conduct their relationships the way they want to."

What does six dates mean? Is it serious?

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