Thursday, July 10, 2014

Young adults see marriage as unimportant

A new poll indicates that marriage is not particularly popular among the younger generation — the folks that, traditionally, would be tying the knot right about now. It's no secret that the age of marriage has been increasing for decades. Earlier in the 20th century, when most men went straight to the workforce after high school and most women were wed by then or earlier, the age of marriage hoovered around age 20. With increases in post-secondary education postponing the time available for building families, and with economic upheaval making marriage and families less attainable, the age of marriage has increased into the later 20s.

It should come as no surprise that today's young adults are less enchanted with marriage and less focused on getting married. For some, marriage might seem like an unattainable dream; for others, it's irrelevant to their careers or their carefree lifestyle because, if nothing else, marriage adds duties and responsibilities to life. For some young adults, duties and responsibilities are not desirable burdens, and the pleasures of marriage and parenthood are available outside of marriage and even without the responsibilities.

This is a marked change in attitude and expectations. My late mother-in-law used to ruefully tell of how my father-in-law proposed to her. After a few dates, he told her, "I guess we'll have to get married." They had found each other; marriage was the logical and inevitable result. That expectation is rapidly disappearing. Not only is marriage no longer the expected result of a relationship, it might not even be considered.

That seismic change is foreboding. Marriage and families have been the building blocks of society and civilization for centuries. In different ways in different cultures, the civil and religious rites of marriage sealed the responsibilities of spouses and parents in a way that benefited civil society and even the economy. The vaunted "Protestant work ethic" was all about taking responsibility for supporting family, not competing with other workers.

If today's young adults avoid the bonds of marriage and its responsibilities, fewer adults will take on the burdens of parenting and civic leadership. Fewer adults will feel a need to build policies that benefit the next generation and that protect marriages and families. Without marriage and family, it is easy to live for the moment and not worry about what tomorrow might bring. Without a commitment to children and grandchildren, public education becomes less important, economic opportunity less essential, neighborhood quality less meaningful and moral conduct less desirable.

If marriage becomes archaic, society will suffer.

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