According to a recent poll, more Americans than ever before believe that marriage is becoming obsolete. The results reflect a decreasing reliance on marriage for economic survival, as a growing number of alternatives offer single people a pathway to self-sufficiency. Rather than a basis for economic stability, suggests the study, marriage is becoming the end goal for individuals who have already achieved financial success and stability. The study further illustrates the new weddings trends that are changing face of marriage—in particular, its transition from an economic alliance to a commitment of love.
The poll, conducted by TIME magazine in conjunction with the Pew Research Center, reveals that approximately 40 per cent of Americans polled believe that marriage is becoming irrelevant, an increase from only 28 per cent in 1978. However, only one quarter of single people polled said they did not want to marry. In addition, 80 per cent of married people polled said their marriages were at least as happy as, or happier than, their parents’ marriage. At first glance these results may seem contradictory—if modern Americans think marriage and weddings are going out of fashion, why do such a large percentage of married Americans report so much contentment in their marriage?
In fact, the results show not necessarily a contradiction, but rather an increasingly complex and sophisticated portrait of the institution of marriage, explains Stephanie Coontz, professor of history and family studies at Evergreen State College, in Olympia, Washington. Coontz supports this observation by pointing out the contrast between modern, college-educated women and college-educated women of the 1960s, who had very different reasons for marrying:
On the one hand, marriage as a voluntary relationship based on love and commitment is held in higher regard than ever, with more people saying that love is essential to marriage (Consider that in 1967, two-thirds of college women said they’d consider marrying a man they didn’t love if he met other criteria, such as offering respectability and financial security.)
Coontz goes on to say, “as an institution that regulates people’s lives, marriage is no longer the social and economic necessity it once was”, adding that people “can construct successful lives outside marriage in ways that would have been very difficult to manage 50 years ago”, and that “they have a far greater range of choices” about whether, when, and how to perform a wedding ceremony or organize their marriage, and they often arrive at this decision with their partner after a significant period of cohabitation, in which they are able to gauge their partner’s viability. These observations suggest that modern women rely less on men for their livelihood, and thus the primary reason for marrying a man has become love, not security. This is due in large part to the availability of resources through means other than sacramental wedding rites, a fact that has forced people to redefine marriage to suit contemporary needs and desires, allowing them the luxury to be pickier about their selection of partner.
In addition, Coontz points out, women have found it necessary to gain an education and support themselves financially, not only for personal fulfillment and a sense of completeness, but also because there is no guarantee their husbands will not abandon them or die unexpectedly.
But the growing correlation between marriage and success also highlights the gap between rich and poor. The reason for this, explains Coontz, is that if people are looking for partners who are already established with successful careers before they partake in the benefits of the institution of marriage, poor people are inevitably being left out. In the past, men would be expected to rescue women from poverty through marriage, but nowadays men are looking to marry successful women requiring little support—and this has become a realistic option with women having entered the workforce and making up the majority of university graduates; meanwhile, successful women, too, desire a mate who can pull his weight financially. The irony is that the poor and financially unstable are being excluded from the very institution that might help them build a more secure and stable life. But the poor, Coontz argues, value marriage and family life just as much, if not more so, than the rich, so this discrepancy is an important policy issue for lawmakers to consider.
All of this does not necessarily mean marriage is totally on its way out, or that the poor cannot be included; what it really points to is the postponement of marriage until later in life, when both partners can be sure to contribute to the family financially, and this fact should not discourage the poor from finding an incentive in marriage, simply by virtue of the fact that it offers benefits for them. Wedding officiants and ministers ordained in online churches such as ULC Monastery will still have plenty of work cut out for them, too—it is just that their clientele will be older and mature, and an increasing number of couples will be seeking an affirmation of love certificate or certificate of commitment rather than a fast-track to obtaining a legal marriage license.
Feel free to share your thoughts. Is marriage becoming an archaic, outdated institution, or is it simply being redefined to suit contemporary needs?