The college class I teach on millennial issues enrolls 15 women — no men — so sometimes discussions are more revealing than in a co-ed class. When the topic of marriage comes up, some young women wonder if they will ever get married. Long gone are the days of going to college for a MRS (Mrs.) degree. Now, confronted with almost too many choices for careers and entrepreneurial ventures, my students question where marriage fits — if at all — in their life plans.
Their attitude toward marriage is reflected in a new Pew Research Center survey that found that 42 million Americans have never been married. Among adults 25 and older, a record share — 20 percent — remained single, up from 9 percent in 1960. Released last week, the report surveyed 2003 adults, focusing on young adults ages 25-34.
Although the never-married trend has been growing since 1970, Pew predicts that by 2030, when these young adults reach their 40s and 50s, almost a quarter will have never married.
The shifting attitudes toward marriage are varied, reflecting cultural, demographic and economic changes:
- Changing priorities. Asked if society is “better off if people make marriage a priority,” 50 percent of those surveyed answered no.
- Gender differences. Finding a spouse with a steady job (78 percent) tops the list for young women, followed by similar attitudes about having and raising children (70 percent). Men ranked just the opposite, putting children first (62 percent) and jobs second (46 percent). Neither rated religion, race, ethnicity or education as deciding factors.
- Economics. The job market has tightened for young men: In 1960, 93 percent were employed; by 2012 that number had fallen to 82 percent, and their wages have shrunk as well.
So, even if women want to get married, the pool of available men is smaller. Pew noted that if all never-married young women in 2012 wanted to find a young employed man who had also never been married, 9 percent of them would fail, simply because there are not enough men in the target group.
Do all those singles hope to eventually find a spouse? One-third are ambivalent, and 13 percent flatly say no. That leaves about half planning to get married someday. By the time my students hit their 30s, the odds are a good number will be married, as the survey also found that marriage rates are highest among the well-educated. Maybe the old jump rope rhyme (“First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby carriage”) isn’t completely outdated.
Of course, where children are supposed to fit into their careers is another long discussion.
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