The strains of modern, changes in social attitude and world events life have been a slow death to the traditional marriage. It just wasn’t meant to be.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spanner in many plans, with most events from funerals to graduation ceremonies to birthdays being cancelled or postponed. And one institution has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic: weddings.
Marriage rates have significantly decreased during the COVID pandemic, a phenomenon that is partially explained by restrictions. However, the reduction is also indicative of a wider change in social attitudes towards marriage.
Cutting the big white cake has become less of a milestone.
In 2018, before COVID even entered our consciousness, marriage rates had reached the lowest in over a hundred years. Approximately half as many heterosexual couples got married in 2016 as to 1940.
As suggested by one article, COVID, and its resulting lockdown, is unlikely to be the sole contributor to this decline. The pandemic has merely highlighted something that was already there.
Where does this reticence to wed come from?
Many people want to secure a good job before they feel they can get married, as they fear that any marriage would be doomed without financial security. Figuratively speaking, they want solid foundations before building a new house.
This has led to an increase in average marriage age, with people taking longer to feel financially secure and emotionally ready. Research shows that in 1958, American men were on average married at 22.6, and women at 20.2, compared to 2018, where these ages increased to 29.8 (men) and 27.8 (women).
And why is this?
Marriage is a daunting prospect for many, and the idea of a contract may be losing its appeal for couples who don’t feel ready to sign away their singledom on paper. It feels more sensible to wait, or not wed at all.
This seems to be especially applicable to women, who are more reticent to give up their freedom.
As Professor Perelli-Harris says: “marriage [used to be] more of a financial decision. It was the tying together of two families, or a way to make sure women were protected financially and as women have become more educated and more likely to be independent and employed, there isn’t the need to be within a marriage as much.’
Or as another writer puts it, marriage “wasn’t about love; it was about marrying the woman who came from richest family or the man who had the fattest turkeys in town. It was, for the sake of argument, a necessity.”
But it is a necessity no longer.
So: has the very concept of marriage become outdated?
44% of Millennials and 43% of Gen-X think marriage is obsolete, according to recent research. The younger generations appear to have a different set of priorities when it comes to their life goals.
Aside from the lack of financial incentive, marriage is no longer a prerequisite for a couple’s physical intimacy. Until 40 or 50 years ago, it was considered normal to not have sex before marriage, and especially to not have children before marriage. Now, the opposite is true.
The data shows approximately 95% of Americans have had sex before marriage/outside of marriage, and we can see that figure as representative of much of the western world. Marriage isn’t necessary to cover up the scandals of premarital sex or illegitimate children.
There has been a significant reduction in taboo surrounding unmarried parents and single parents. Whereas having children outside of marriage was once seen as a great scandal (going against social, religious and moral codes) it is now commonplace.
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By Mathilda Heller: Literature COLUMNIST
It is impossible to ignore the correlation between these figures and the decreasing marriage rates.
Without the need to be married to have children or sex, there is much less incentive to take the marital plunge.
So, decreasing marriage rates is not only a reflection of economic insecurity, but also a reflection of changing social perspectives and a growing view that marriage, as an institution, is a thing of the past.
The concept of a family has become more flexible. The original notion was inextricably linked to heteronormative ideals of a hard-working man and his domesticated wife with their brood of children. Now, the notion of “family” can encompass anything from single mothers to same-sex couples to multi-parent families to surrogates and step-children and more.
The old ideals of marriage were non-inclusive. The heteronormative associations surrounding marriage created a stigma for those who were in same-sex partnerships, or who were biologically unable to have children, or who didn’t want to relinquish their independence for the sake of marital unions.
Marriage has always been exclusive not inclusive: available only to those who fit the mould.
Arguably, COVID has played a role in creating disillusionment around marriage, mainly by increasing interpersonal conflict and decreasing sexual intimacy. These factors contribute significantly to a lack of desire to marry. COVID has forced many couples into a pressured and claustrophobic environment, proving that they cannot handle issues as easily as they had once thought.
People begin to ask, if we can’t make it through a lockdown, can we make it through a marriage?
Furthermore, the pandemic has caused serious economic difficulties, meaning many feel even more strongly than before that they are not in a secure enough financial position to enter into a marriage.
Because of these factors, alongside a lowered rate of marriage, COVID has also caused an increase in divorce rate, with a 25% increase in queries in 2020 as to 2019.
So, is this decrease in marriage rate a short-term or long-term phenomenon?
It appears to be more permanent that we thought. Before the pandemic, people were already outgrowing the desire to marry. Many women felt that marriage would remove their independence and autonomy, and many people pursued children without marrying or indeed without a partner at all.
And is this really such a bad thing?
Maybe not. For a while now, society has been outgrowing its heteronormative cocoon and spreading its wings into a more modernised, liberal norm. Today’s young people see the institution of marriage as too archaic, too inflexible, and too restrictive, and are happy to simply explore different relationships without needing to legalise them.
For many, marriage is simply too much pressure.
So maybe, this change is a good thing. We can all, as a society, re-evaluate our priorities and our beliefs. Maybe without the pressure to marry, people will be less likely to trap themselves in unhealthy relationships for the sake of fulfilling a societal expectation. Maybe, instead of reaching a goal, people will live more in the present.
Maybe, just maybe, saying goodbye to marriage will be no great loss.
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