Marriage is so passé. At least, that’s what the statistics will tell you. According to the latest Pew Research Center analysis, released in December 2011, only 51 percent of all adults who are 18 and older are married – a sharp decline from the 57 percent who were married in 2000 and an even sharper contrast to the previous generation when the marriage rate stood at 72 percent in 1960.
Why Is Marriage So Much Less Desirable?
only 51 percent of all adults … are married – a sharp decline from the 57% who were married in 2000 and … 72% in 1960.
A variety of reasons – from the slumping economy to decreasing religiosity – have been cited as causes of the faltering state of marriage. But, perhaps, the most obvious reason for the decreasing popularity of religion is the general shift in cultural and familial roles that has taken place over the past generation. Women are no longer expected to embody June Cleaver, nor are men expected to bear the brunt of the financial obligations for the family.
Women are not only going to college, but they are getting Master’s degrees, Ph.D.s, or law degrees and then using their higher education to advance their career – all of which leaves less time to devote to finding a mate. Moreover, advancements in birth control, as well as legal and medical developments with respect to adoption and in vitro fertilization – have shattered prior child-bearing limitations for women. The stigma of single motherhood has been reduced – if not removed – with 40 percent of children today born to single mothers. Conversely, obligatory motherhood is also no longer the norm as the percentage of women in their early 40s who have not given birth has nearly doubled since 1976. Gone are the days of a childless woman marked as a spinster and single motherhood deemed a scandal. 
In All the Single Ladies, the Atlantic’s cover story last November, Katie Bolick posits that the educational and economical changes over the past generation have reduced the potential “marriage pool” for women. Data obtained by Michael Greenstone, an economist at MIT, reveals that, after accounting for inflation, male median wages have fallen by 32 percent since 1973, with the most recent economic decline exacerbating this imbalance. Nearly three-quarters of the 7.5 million jobs lost in the depths of the Great Recession were jobs held by men, making 2010 the first time in American history that women made up the majority of the workforce. 
As a result of women’s rise in the workforce and the corresponding male decline, the traditional marriage paradigm is no longer workable. Ms. Bolick bluntly states: “a marriage regime based on men’s overwhelming economic dominance may be passing into extinction,” since women are no longer compelled to “marry up” in order to improve their status and security.
Will There Be a Marriage Revival?
Some argue that marriage really isn’t outdated and that the record low number of married Americans doesn’t accurately portray the complete picture. Instead, they argue, that the demographics of marriage are simply readjusting, with the record low marriage rate a byproduct of the ever-increasing average marriage age, which now stands at 26 for women and nearly 28 for men.
Certainly, many twenty-somethings, who a generation ago would have almost certainly been married in their early to mid-twenties, now see marriage as obsolete and an outdated social convention. Children of divorced parents may be skeptical of marriage as a workable relationship and are, thus, reluctant to jump into something that caused pain for their childhood family. But many other twenty-somethings are not writing marriage off altogether, but simply waiting longer to marry so that they can focus on education, career, and financial security first.
The slumping economy may also be temporarily to blame for pushing marriage out of vogue. In 2010 an estimated 7.5 million couples were living together without having tied the knot, which is a 13 percent increase over 2009. Demographers have noted that many of these unwed cohabitating couples include someone who has lost a job and the couple could no longer afford duplicate living expenses. 
By pointing to statistics that older Americans aged 60 and higher are as likely to be married as any other generation before them at that age, some argue that marriage isn’t dead – or even dying – it is just changing and readjusting. 
Dare I say, the redefined state of marriage may just be more en vogue than ever.
Perhaps the question isn’t whether marriage is no longer en vogue or whether marriage is dying, but whether the state of marriage is healthy? Certainly the marriage rate is declining. And Americans are putting off marriage to an older age, if choosing to marry at all.
But, if marriage is based on mutual respect, committed love, and faithful partnership, instead of financial, housekeeping, and familial obligations, isn’t it, perhaps, thriving? Dare I say, the redefined state of marriage may just be more en vogue than ever.