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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Monticello, whose marriage was as much practical as romantic, says she, her husband, and their group of friends don't view marriage as a "central organizing principle of society anymore" and are open to different kinds of families, including those where children are born to couples that aren't married.Skip to next paragraph
In fact, Monticello's first book, an essay collection titled "Close Quarters," coming out this month, was inspired by how her "parents' divorce worked better than some marriages." She says that after the divorce, they "let their love for each other evolve into what I've always imagined a long marriage would become – a deep friendship that has accommodated change."
A record 41 percent of children born today are born to unmarried women, according to the Pew Research Center; in 1990, that number was 28 percent. Cherlin says demographers attribute most of that increase over the past few years to women living with the fathers of their children.
Millennials want to do better at marriage and parenting than they perceive their parents did. That's why they're taking their time, says Seligson, who spent a lot of time parsing what six dates might mean back in her New York City dating days; they want to get the commitment part right.
"If you look at the polling on Gen-Y," she says, "we're pretty optimistic. I think because we are a generation raised with technology, we feel lots of things are possible. There are a lot of choices now. We don't have to do it the way our parents did."
That feeling of freedom to postpone or choose an alternative to marriage appears to be more common among Yers in big cities than in small towns and small cities, perhaps because of small-town social mores, stronger family ties, or religious beliefs.
Jamison says the trend toward living together first and delaying marriage is generally stonger in bigger cities: "There's a social context in big cities where people feel they need to be very careful about marriage."
Marriage models needed
Despite all their caution, alternative living arrangements, and fears of divorce, Millennials seem to invest hope in a happily-ever-after that includes marriage and children. While 63 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds in a TIPP poll for the Monitor in January said they believe most marriages are not happy, 77 percent want to marry before having children and 80 percent said they believe that marriage makes a relationship stronger.
"Marriage as a goal or an idea, everyone still buys into that," says Cherlin. "But Gen-Y buys into it later."
Rhoades at the Center for Marital and Family Studies says Millennials' caution about marriage comes from a "really good place. What's sad is that kids growing up in homes with bad marriages and divorce want to do it right, but we don't have a great model for that."
Ken O'Doran, a 29-year-old student in Illinois who was married relatively young – at 23 – and divorced a few months ago, says he's actually very supportive of marriage as an institution.
"A lot of people assume my generation is against marriage, that we're very casual about commitment and sex," he says. "But the vast majority of us are interested in long-term monogamy and the support of a long-term relationship. We need that.
"The problem," he continues, "is that we haven't been shown how to have a successful marriage because everyone's parents are divorced. It's not that we don't want those relationships; we just haven't been shown how to do it right."