Contrary to what a review of high school friends' Facebook profiles may suggest, not everyone is getting married already. Rather, we millennials are dragging our feet to the altar at a slower pace than any previous generation.
Our grandparents, the "Betty and Don Drapers," married young, and their breakups caused the divorce spike in the 1970s and 1980s. Our parents married their high school and college sweethearts, and only 60% of us grew up in a two-parent household. We look at them and we look at our partners and we say, "let's really think this through."
Psychotherapist and writer Dr. Tina Tessina says, because many millennials have single parents or blended families, "they have little experience of what good marriages look like. The media has a lot of focus on celebrities whose relationships are dysfunctional, and reality TV thrives on bad relationships featuring emotionally immature and dysfunctional people … It's no surprise, then, that millennials are gun-shy. Where will they get their images of what functional relationships and healthy marriages look like?"
In 2012, the median age for first marriages in the U.S. was 28.6 for men and 26.6 for women. In 1990, the ages were 26.1 and 23.9, respectfully. Back in 1960, men were 22 and women were 20, and 59% of adults ages 18 to 29 were married. Today, a record low of 20% in that age bracket have said, "I do."
Increasing enrollment in higher education, especially for women, is at least part of the reason for the older marriage age. More (primarily white) women are employed in top positions with breadwinner salaries than ever before — so many put their weddings and baby days on hold until they've finished school and made strides in their careers.
Other factors that may account for the delay to wed include tends of secularization, lowering rates of teen pregnancy, and medical advances that extend women's childbearing age. The economic decline also plays a role; 13% of adults under the age of 35 say they postponed marriage because of the recession.
The importance of marriage slightly differs by race and ethnic background. Pew’s 2010 study shows that among American millennials, about 5% more non-Hispanic whites than nonwhites rank a successful marriage as one of the highest priorities in their life. Across racial lines, the majority of millennials say they value good parenting over a successful marriage.
While many millennials are hesitant to get hitched, most still support the institution of marriage for straight and same-sex couples alike. That said, 44% of the generation say marriage is becoming obsolete, compared to 35% of baby boomers.
Those who are planning a future more readily buy a house than a ring. Two-thirds of us move in together before we marry, and the numbers of non-married couples buying a home have risen substantially. Couples are playing house to test their compatibility before they tie the knot — except in the south, where signing marriage certificate still usually precedes signing a mortgage. Robi Ludwig, a psychotherapist who surveys buyer habits, observes, "it's almost like buying a home is the new engagement ring."
We may end up marrying at a comparable percentage to the generations before us, and time will tell what effect our older wedding age will have on our divorce rates. Until then, you'll be in good company at the open bar watching the tossing of the bouquet.