Better Off Alone: Why do younger generations no longer believe in the concept of marriage?
Hello, I’m Anastasiia and I’m an alcoholic… Oh, wait! Wrong speech!
Growing up in a foreign country, with a different cultural background and different…Well… parental experience led me to believe that I am terribly mistaken to even doubt the purpose of marriage. My mother used to say things like: "Your room should be clean or no man is going to marry you!" or, "You need to learn how to cook or you will be an awful wife in the future!" For my then-teenage mindset, this advice was like a red rag to a bull, prompting me to respond: "Mom, I don't need anyone! Especially a husband !" It therefore, came as a surprise to me after moving to the UK that you don't HAVE to marry somebody to be considered to have a happy and successful life.
Anyway, aside from my mother's questionable parenting skills, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), “in 2020, marriage rates fell to their lowest level since 1862”. This ratio is, no doubt, influenced by the COVID-19 restrictions. However, this trend of decline was present for many years prior to the pandemic, so the real question here is why younger generations, not just Gen-Z, but Millennials as well, are unwilling to marry as early as our parents did, if at all.
How it all started
The attached chart, which uses ONS data, depicts divorce and marriage rates among females from 1957 to 2020. A bride in the mid-20th century was young (in her early twenties) and would never apply for divorce (it was nearly impossible). Prior to the start of the 1970s, marriage rates were only rising. After that, their fall was gradual and almost yearly. So what has actually happened? The second wave of feminism came first, addressing a wide range of social issues such as women's equality and the criticism of patriarchal systems. Numerous concerns, such as the workplace, domestic violence, families, and reproductive rights, were brought to light by this movement. We could discuss the advantages of the second wave for women for ages, but the Divorce Reform Act of 1969—not to mention Lesley Gore's hit song “You Don’t Own Me”—was the one that really changed the nature of marriage. The new law made "no fault" divorce possible, which means that neither a man nor a woman had to provide any justification in order to seek divorce. Therefore, the sudden decrease in marriage rates and the accompanying rise in divorce rates may be explained by actual changes in the underlying structures of marriage.
How is it now?
With 65% of all families being made up of married couples, they remain the most common family type. The data, when shown visually (see chart below), gives the impression that this family structure completely dominates all others. However, marriage rates have been steadily dropping over the past ten years. The primary cause of this is the rise in popularity of cohabiting families, which has been identified as the partnership type with the quickest rate of development over the past ten years. Put simply, cohabiting refers to the situation in which long-term partners live together without being legally married or in a civil partnership. The age group of 20 to 34 is the most common for this type of partnership. It can be said that this tendency reflects the reduction in marriage rates and increase of age at marriage. Over the course of 60 years, the average age of marriage has increased by 10 years, to 35 for men and 33 for women.
Why has it happened?
Despite all the changes in marriage practices and social legal systems, the younger generations are still not really into the whole marriage culture. And of course, there are many reasons why.
In order to ascertain the primary genuine views on marriage, a survey was conducted that targeted individuals between the ages of 18 and 27. Despite the official figures showing a decline in marriage rates, 75% of respondents said they would like to get married in the future, and over 80% of them do not think marriage is a thing of the past.
The average age at which respondents would like get married is the mid 30s; however, there are some concerns on their side that can be named as the main reasons why marriage becomes less common thing in the 21st century.
It is expensive!
The amount of money you have to pay to even be able to do it is by far the primary reason why young people nowadays choose not to get married. In the UK, the average cost of a wedding is around 18,000 pounds, and this does not include the costs associated with the registration service or divorce. These expenses should also be considered since you never know what may happen. It's a highly costly method to demonstrate love and dedication, two things that shouldn't require proof. Among the issues raised by the respondents were: rising property costs, unstable employment, increasing student loan debt, and declining financial stability. These are essentially evidence that the current unstable economy affects not just the employment and financial state of society, but also the relationships between individuals and family structures. To overcome the costs of living, people have began to lean towards different types of relationship, creating new ways to commit to their partner.
It is not about love anymore
According to 100% of respondents, proving your commitment to your partner doesn't require being married. Although getting married is not old-fashioned and can symbolise a new step in the relationship, in today’s reality, marriage is more important for the sake of financial and legal benefits. Getting married legally makes a couple's life as a unit simpler since the government will acknowledge them as such. It's merely the means of letting society know that, sure, we are sharing a bed, officially. Understanding these surface-level advantages, younger generations also recognise that marriage is not always equal and that it entails a great deal of needless legal obligations. Why would you do that when you can establish personal agreements with your partner that don't involve the government? Furthermore, the acknowledged growing indifference that the younger generations' have to established social institutions can be correlated with their loss of trust in governmental organisations. So, as the ideals of the Gen-Z and Millennials grow apart from government politics and views, the legal benefits of marriage may further fall to the wayside.
So, they love me or they love me not?
There is little question that attitudes regarding marriage have evolved over the 20th century. It is not about ownership anymore, it is not about being together in the ‘eyes of God’ anymore. It is hard to predict how exactly marriage rates are going to change in the future. However, Millennials and Generation Z are becoming less and less interested in marriage in its traditional sense. Individuals either choose different kinds of partnerships or make this decision when they are considerably older. Though, it might be claimed that the institution of marriage is becoming less relevant and desirable in society, young people continue to express their desire to be married someday. So, maybe younger generations do, in fact, believe in marriage—just not in the modern definition of it.