Millennials: You May Have the Wrong Idea About Marriage

Millennial marriage
Manuel Orero Galan/Creative RF/Getty

There seems to be two divergent ways of thinking when it comes to marriage. For a long time, the “cornerstone” concept has been widely accepted.  This approach views marriage as the foundation of adult life.  Getting married occurs before or during the occurrence of other major life milestones, such as educational or career advancement.  A “capstone” attitude is now taking hold, particularly for the age 18 – 33 demographic, also known as “Millennials.” This is about delaying marriage until major personal goals are achieved.

Research coming out of the Brigham Young University School of Family Life cautions the younger generations against the capstone approach to marriage for several reasons.

The capstone approach may, ironically, lead to worse preparation for marriage, resulting is less marital satisfaction. Delaying marriage makes it even more difficult to transition from an “I” focus to a “we” focus. Being single for a very long time entrenches people in their habits that make change and compromise more difficult.  Marriage may even be regarded as a “loss” of freedom or independence, casting a negative light on the idea.

A long life phase of being single creates more complicated romantic histories that may teach inappropriate lessons or incite bitterness and skepticism about marital happiness. There have been virtually no studies that have found cohabitating prior to marriage to help better prepare someone for marriage or prevent divorce.

There is actually some evidence that premarital cohabitation creates more of a risk factor for marital problems. 

For a long time, early marriage, say before age 25, was seen as a bad idea. Many from generation X and Y grew up with divorced parents perhaps skewing their impression of marriage quite negatively.

It is significant to note that times have really changed. Women are no longer unequivocally given the message they “need a man” to survive. More women than ever are graduating with advanced degrees. “Shotgun” weddings are a thing of the past.  If you marry young, you are choosing to marry young based on the same reasons you choose to marry later in life: love, desire to commit, seeing a future with someone special, believing your core values are shared, and so on. The bias against marrying earlier in life appears outdated.

Moreover, capstone ideals may put having a family before marriage – both in priority and chronology - and can adversely impact the children’s well-being.  People may be delaying marriage, but they are definitely not delaying sex. This occurs in both steady relationships and “hook-ups.” Regardless, sex increases the chance of pregnancy. There are still too many babies born to unwed parents. Without the structure and foundation of a two-parent household, these children have more hardship and less life opportunity.

A capstone belief system may push marriage beyond reach. What happens to those who struggle to “get themselves together?” If you are always thinking, that you will look to get married when you achieve thus and such, or reach a certain financial goal, it may be a never-ending journey.

Dr. Alan Hawkins, one of the main researchers on this topic from Brigham Young University warns that “it may take some people well into their 30s or 40s to meet these criteria, especially lower income individuals and perhaps individuals who experienced much more stress and trauma growing up who take longer to get it all together.” He also believes, “the pool of potential mates does get smaller as others marry and some of the best candidates may choose to marry a little earlier.” So, it seems people are waiting too long for the right person. “You can pass up good marital matches because you are ‘not ready’ for marriage and when you are ready, there may be fewer good candidates to choose from” cautions Dr. Hawkins. In fact, the research shows that delaying marriage well into your thirties puts you at a higher probability of never marrying.

 

The capstone marriage philosophy may still work for some. Perhaps a redesign that encapsulates what we can learn from both the capstone and cornerstone ideals would be ideal. It is pretty clear that you do need to have a certain amount of maturity to marry. You would also need to be very careful about whom you choose to marry. In this case, it would help to have a mindset toward marriage when dating. Dating would need to be more intentional and thought out.

Early marriage might require delaying, or bypassing altogether, a big expensive wedding. If may be wiser if parents gave the young couple the money to use for housing and other necessities instead.  Early marriage will also take away the pressure to have children right away. It could help eliminate the necessity for medical intervention to get pregnant. Two people can still continue their educational and career goals while married. The couple can bond during this period of growth if the effort is made to do so.

A major take-away is that we should not have a one-size-fits-all concept of when people should marry.  It does not have to be the capstone pinnacle of achievement, nor the entire foundation of one’s life.  All things considered, you should carefully and thoughtfully contemplate your personal reasons for marriage, what you value in life, set out to find an appropriate match and ultimately take a risk at this long-term commitment, probably sooner rather than later.   

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