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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Andrew Cherlin, a professor of sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University and author of "The Marriage-Go-Round," says that because Gen-Y grew up during the high-water mark of divorce, they have a strong desire not to experience what they either endured as kids or saw happening to families around them.Skip to next paragraph
Andrew Schrage, single and 25, agrees. He is co-owner of the Chicago start-up Money Crashers Personal Finance, a financial education website. Men of his generation have a sense of "guardedness" about marriage, he says, "because they see the potential disastrous effects that divorce can have on one's personal, professional, and financial lives. I almost feel like marriage has become more of a strategic decision, when it used to be a much more emotional one."
But researchers say there's little risk of a return to a time when marriage was largely a business relationship, rather than a romantic endeavor.
"I think for this generation there's definitely the ideal of a romantic relationship," says Rhoades. "They do aspire to that but also feel the pressure to go about it in a practical way."
"I'm very pro-marriage. But I'm also very worried about divorce – it's one of my biggest concerns," says Maggie Ryan, a 20-year-old college student in Boston. She wants to get married before she's 30 because she wants children. "I'm from a huge family, and my parents have an ideal marriage," she says. They met in eighth grade and have been together ever since, and Ms. Ryan says they are still very much in love.
Brittany Young, a 19-year-old college student in Illinois, has been in a relationship for about a year. She grew up with a single mom yet strongly supports marriage, even though she says it's a long way off: "That's my No. 1 thing for the future. I want to have children after I'm married. It wouldn't be done in the correct manner otherwise."
The median age for a first marriage is now the highest in US history, according to the US Census Bureau: For men it is 28.7 and for women it's 26.5.
Jamison believes the demographic shift is significant and has affected all aspects of Gen-Y courtship: "If you start having relationships at 16 or 17 and don't get married for a decade, that means people are interested in being in relationships that aren't necessarily directed towards marriage. That's a major shift."
Postponing marriage until it can be done well is a story of economics as much as it is fear of divorce, says Professor Cherlin. College graduates take longer to marry because they are investing in school and careers – to give them a sound financial footing as adults – and eventually most of them will marry, he says.
That's not the case for high school graduates who don't go to college.
"What's happened to our economy is that the kinds of jobs that used to sustain a working-class marriage have disappeared, like manufacturing jobs," says Cherlin. "Even young people that have found work aren't making as much as their parents did, so they are less likely to marry than college-educated people." Marriage – and the requisite house, decent schools, reliable car – is still seen as the gold standard for having a family, but less-educated young adults don't feel they can live up to that standard, so they postpone marriage until they can.