I just read some interesting statistics
that the institution of marriage peaked in the United States
in 1993. Since
then, the number of couples getting married each year has
declined, resulting in a smaller percentage of people over
18 who've ever tied the knot.
In 1960, 72% of American adults over 18 were then
Today, that figure stands at 51%.
The sliding numbers among the under 29 crowd are the
In 1960, 59% of this demographic was married compared to 20%
Still, 72% of all living American
adults have been married at least once.
That's not a big drop in 50 years from the 85% of
American adults who'd been married at least once by 1960.
That decline is only 15% and sociologists glibly
explain it away as more couples cohabiting instead of
The surprising fact for me is that
three out of four people have been married at some point in
their lives, and more than four out of five if we use the
1960 statistic. I
could believe these stats (or even higher ones) for a
country like India, where marriages are arranged between
families to form an alliance.
Getting married over there can be like satisfying a
This was not the case for much of the United States in 1960.
Sure, there was societal pressure to follow in the
parental footsteps and propagate the next generation.
My parents married right out of college and didn't
wait long to have children.
Some of their friends married while still in college.
But by the time the latter half of the 1960's rolled
around, I would've thought that many people would've taken
matters into their own hands and done what they wanted,
which would've included not getting married.
A hundred years ago in the United
States, I could readily buy the 85% stat.
In fact, I would've estimated the figure to be over
are many reasons one can marry:
religious reasons, financial ones, sexual ones.
In 1912, no one would've cared what those reasons
were. When one
reached marriageable age, s/he married.
If the spouses loved each other, all the better,
although that wasn't required.
When everyday people think of reasons to get married
today, the first one that invariably comes up – some say the
only valid reason – is love.
Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a research professor at Clark
University in Massachusetts, conducted a survey among 18 to
29 years olds, some single, some married.
An overwhelming 86% agreed with the statement that
they expected to have a marriage which lasted a lifetime.
In another survey, close to 90% said that they
expected to have a soul mate as a spouse.
This is a very romantic love-oriented view towards
Not many commented that they expected their marriage to last
for a lifetime because their expected spouse would be the
same religion or had deep pockets, for instance.
Obviously, many of these survey
respondents, probably most, won't marry a soul mate.
If they did, the divorce rate wouldn't be one in two.
Yep, half those newlyweds I met on that Caribbean
cruise back in 2001 are divorced now.
In John Croucher's book Love By Numbers, only
39% of people thought they married their soul mate.
This question was, of course, asked in retrospect.
More might've responded affirmatively if queried just
after they stood on the altar.
However, 32% of the respondents in Croucher's book
were sure they didn't marry their soul mates, a
not-so-surprising conclusion really.
Plenty of idealistic teens realize they have to
settle for less than their ideal by the time they walk down
In the book Why Men Marry Some Women
And Not Others, author John Malloy states, based on
thousands of interviews, that a man's chances for getting
married drop dramatically after age thirty-eight and dive
even more once he reaches forty-two or forty-three.
After that point, he's likely a confirmed bachelor.
Malloy's findings are especially
apposite to my own circumstances.
I didn't meet my wife-to-be until after I passed the
first drop-off age.
I didn't get married until I was at the age when I
should've been labeled a perpetual confirmed bachelor.
I am not arguing with Malloy's results.
My brother's age just passed the second drop off
point, and he's not married or about to become so.
If people were taking bets, they'd overwhelmingly
vote that he'll never get married.
The reasons I remained single well past
the typical marriageable age and my brother continues to
remains so isn't so complicated.
We hadn't met
anyone we felt was worth marrying.
I'm shocked this is such a revolutionary concept.
Would you put serious investment into a car or a
house you weren't crazy about, with the understanding you'd
have to keep them for forty or fifty more years?
I don't think you'd even be excited to do it if you
knew you only had to keep the house or car for five years
unless these were all you could afford and you were
extremely desperate. I
have yet to meet someone outside the circle of Hollywood
celebrities who marries someone with the logic that they can
easily trade this person in within five years. The
institution of marriage still maintains the ideal of being
until death do you part.
Now you have to recall that there are
other reasons people get married.
I once dated a girl in the late 1990's whose primary
objective was to be a mother.
She wasn't all that selective who was providing the
she wasn't the type to become a single mother by choice,
marriage was an inevitable step.
In my opinion, the desire to have children would be a
case for being even more selective in the choice of a
mate. I wouldn't
want just anyone's DNA contributing to my future offspring,
and I'd want a reliable partner to assist in the upbringing.
Religious reasons are strong, too.
A born again Christian or an Orthodox Jew is going to
get married sooner rather than later and to whomever is
nearby when they're in their early to mid-twenties.
Personally, I was always surprised that
most people who are 25-28 are confident enough to make a
lifelong decision about marriage.
I certainly didn't feel that way when I was that age.
Had I married any of the girls I was with at that
stage in my life, they would've ended up in disaster – and I
knew it then.
Now that those ages are far behind me and I consider myself
older and wiser, I am all the more surprised that people in
their mid- to late-twenties think they've got enough
experience to make this call.
And they probably don't.
To many, marriage is viewed as competition, much like
the economics of choice school placements.
Parents try to score
their nursery school kids spots in a prime nursery school,
thinking that doing so early in the kid's life will involve
less competition and secure better placement in the
education programs that come later.
As more parents seek to play this angle, competition
to get into that nursery school becomes ridiculously intense
Parents fears that if they wait too long to get
Junior a privileged place, they may be crowded out for good.
There's this inescapable element among
young couples over age 22 that a clock is ticking somewhere.
This is particularly evident among women who really
must face a very finite biological clock.
It's perceived that if a final choice isn't made by
age 28 or 30 or whatever the deemed cut off age is for that
culture/area/ethnic community, the person standing single
will be shut out of the last seat in a game of matchmaking
But there's a major flaw in that line
of thinking. If
you don't happen to be living in a region in China where
there may be a shortage of women due to the one-child
policy, there's really no shortage of prospects to marry . .
. ever. A man
could marry someone ten years younger if his age pool is
truly “used up” already.
A woman could marry a man ten years older.
One could find a spouse abroad.
I'd argue that you don't even need to resort to age
leaping or country skipping to tie the knot.
Myriad dating sites and Craig's List are there for
Back in my high school days on a
student trip to Israel, one of my fellow travelers was a
nerdy, rather socially inept kid.
This is not the kind of guy who'd do well at a mixer
or on a blind date.
In days of yore, outside of countries with an
arranged marriage tradition, people in this category were
not primed to find willing spouses and their undesirable
seed would remain unpropagated.
In today's climate, a profile on Match, eHarmony, or
Jdate can get two desperates matched up in no time.
This is exactly what happened to him.
He's been married for several years now.
This guy could be any nerd, anywhere.
The net can be cast wider now.
Are you a 50-year old male and considered
unmarriageable by the conventional stats?
Come to Thailand and you can marry a woman half your age on
Monday and have her impregnated by Tuesday.
Similar marriage-impregnation opportunities exist in
Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and much of eastern Africa.
There really is someone for everyone if you're not
very particular who that someone is.
However, I believe that most people
from Generation X and after are particular with whom
they marry. My
brother has none of the classic signs of a commitment phobe.
He just hasn't met anyone he'd want to sign a permanent
contract with. I was
If I hadn't met someone who inspired me and made by life
better than it was living solo, I would've preferred to stay
alone. I may be
one of the few remaining adults alive who actually loved
living by himself. There
must be plenty of
others who'd prefer bachelorhood to a significant other who
isn't close to their ideal.
Pew Research did some analysis and
discovered that the number of new marriages in the United
States declined by 5% between 2009 and 2010.
The drop is not due to the economic downturn, as many
Hill in his paper entitled Love In the Time Of
Effect Of Economic Downturns on the Probability of Marriage
states that recent business cycles had had no effect
on marriage rates.
He points out that marriage fells in the 2007-09
recession, but fell at the same amount during the 2004-06
People today are choosier whom they
marry and less beholden to society's clock when they have to
is not the only gateway to a future family.
Childrearing can be a solo activity without the
parent being stigmatized as s/he would be a generation ago.
The overall marriage stats are only as
high as they seem because of the generations still alive
that came before mine, all those people born in the 1950's
These people followed the rules and got married, like it or
those people start dying off, I expect the figures you'll be
left with will mirror the values the current generations
share. In twenty
years' time, you will see more sixtysomethings who've never
been married, single grandmothers who've never had a spouse,
and sixtysomethings with no grandchildren at all.
Infinite choice means not having to
choose anyone at all.