The State of Millennials and Marriage

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Long ago, marriage was, for the most part, an economic arrangement. This later evolved into a way for people to express their love and commitment to each other. Marriage may be shifting again as Millennials (those born in the 1980s and 1990s) are either not marrying at all or marrying much later.

In 2018, the median age at first marriage was 27 for women and 29 for men. This is up about 7 years since the 1960s and may be slowly climbing. According to a recent report out of the Urban Institute, an unparalleled number of millennials will remain unmarried through age 40. Furthermore, the marriage rate is predicted to drop to 70 percent. This is around 10 – 20% lower than the last three generations. In fact, a 2014 paper out of the ​Pew Research Center reports this is the biggest drop in the marriage rate in history.  ​

Should We Be Worried About This Trend?

Marriage offers several benefits: tax-related pluses, reduced likelihood of poverty, economic security, and children do much better when raised in stable two-parent households. There have been numerous studies that demonstrate that men in particular benefit even more in other ways. 

Why This Is Happening

One of the primary reasons for these trends is that millennials are facing many challenges when it comes to having a firm economic foundation. They often view marriage as a “capstone” rather than “cornerstone” of one’s adult life. However, research shows that the capstone approach may, ironically, lead to worse preparation for marriage, resulting in less marital satisfaction.

A second possible reason is the discouragingly high divorce rate. This is a phenomenon that has likely touched their lives in a profound way. They read about it online, they are products of their own parent’s divorce and they have many friends with divorced parents.

Do Millennials Still Want to Get Married?

A 2013 Gallup survey revealed that more young singles still aspire to get married than not, despite the declining marriage rate. Authorities of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia concur that this assertion is accurate. It seems who gets married and who stays married is changing a lot. But, the desire to marry in and of itself has not changed much. Perhaps this means that the challenge is to eradicate both the real and perceived blocks in our country to achieve that goal.

Does Marriage Have an Image Problem?

Has marriage as an institution lost its modern appeal? Maybe marriage, as it is traditionally defined, is no longer acceptable? We already have redefined who can marry as it is no longer only between a man and a woman. We may have even further to go to improve what might be viewed as an “image problem” in the eyes of the Millennial generation.

Some with strong opinions on the topic believe marriage should be redefined. For instance, there should be alternative options that are also embraced by society. No one has come up with any viable ideas as of yet. What is happening most often is that millennials cohabitate and may even cohabitate with multiple partners (serial cohabitating). There is much evidence that cohabitating does not yield more positive marital outcomes. Some of those who do not live with a partner are often still living with their parents, again due to financial hardship.

Reasons Millennials Delay Marriage

Millennials might have deeper more personal reasons to delay marriage. There may be a mindset among this age group that you don’t need a partner to be happy. It’s also hard to be in a relationship with a group of people that clearly recognize themselves as being rather self-absorbed. 

There are also more choices than ever now. With the use of technology, Millennials can view loads of singles online quite easily. There is a mentality that someone is easily replaceable. This paradox of choice can lead to inertia.

Finally, this group is on the slow path to commitment as a whole. They are taking their time to have sex with multiple partners (even a few friends with benefits) or see if they can tolerate living with someone. This isn’t viewed as reckless behavior. It’s a way to “test drive” their partner before committing to “buy.”

Millennials may have it right. They may be learning from the mistakes of generations past. There are much more socially acceptable options with respect to relationships today. But, what if the pendulum has swung too far? We likely will not for sure until the post-millennial Generation Z is in their 20s or perhaps even the generation after them.

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7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Census Bureau. Historical marital status tables. Updated November 2019.

  2. Urban Institute. Fewer marriages, more divergence: Marriage projections for Millenials to age 40. Updated April 2014.

  3. Pew Research Center. Record share of Americans have never married. Updated September 2014.

  4. Brigham Young University. The meaning of marriage matters, Part 1: Capstones vs. cornerstones: Diverging blueprints for modern marriage. Updated 2020.

  5. Gallup. Most in U.S. want marriage, but its importance has dropped. Updated August 2013.

  6. Rosenfeld MJ, Roesler K. Cohabitation experience and cohabitation's association with marital dissolution. Fam Relat, 2019;81:42-58. doi:10.1111/jomf.12530

  7. Manning WD, Smock PJ, Fettro MN. Cohabitation and marital expectations among single millennials in the U.S. Popul Res Policy Rev. 2019;38(3):327-346. doi:10.1007/s11113-018-09509-8