Fewer Wedding Bells Ring for Generation Y
by Liz Colville
Furthering the “nontraditional” lifestyle trends started by their baby boomer parents, many members of Generation Y are choosing the single life, childrearing, education and adventure over marriage.
The U.S. Census Bureau has reported a decline in marriage rates. Data from 1975 to 1990 show a significant increase in the number of women who have never been married, particularly women aged 20 to 34. As people put off or end their marriages early, or never marry at all, other activities and lifestyles are taking their place.
A 2005 survey by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research tried to determine how the family life of Generation Y has influenced their lifestyle choices and the views they hold. Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed said that cohabitation without marriage was legitimate, and only half of them agreed that marriage is “one of the most important institutions in this country.”
The women surveyed were “more cynical and less traditional” than their male peers. The majority of women said it’s OK for couples to remain unmarried, even if they have children. They also overwhelmingly believe their peers are not responsible enough for marriage, and think the number of unhappy marriages and frequency of divorce calls the value of marriage into question.
The Pew Research Center also found that nontraditional beliefs are growing in the United States. The authors of a study, “Trends in Attitudes Toward Religion and Social Issues, 1987–2007,” found the number of Americans of all ages claiming to have “old-fashioned values about family and marriage” to be declining steadily.
Pew also conducted a separate 2007 study on the gap between marriage and parenthood. The report finds that more Americans believe in cohabitation before marriage, that children are still an important addition to marriage, and that marriage itself is still the “ideal.” “Even though a decreasing percentage of the adult population is married, most unmarried adults say they want to marry.”
Traditional family values encourage young people to marry before living together or having children. Unsurprisingly, these values are common among the devout. In the 2007 study by Pew about the marriage and parenthood gap, 65 percent of all respondents who attended religious services at least once a week agreed that “living together is bad for society” and 73 percent said the same about “unmarried couples having children.”
The presence of organized religion—or lack thereof—in young people’s lives is certainly changing the marriage picture. The 2007 study “OMG! How Generation Y is Redefining Faith in the iPod Era” found that 27 percent of Americans aged 18 to 25 consider organized religion an important part of their lives, and 27 percent consider it a minor part. The remaining 46 percent did not regularly engage in the rituals of any organized religion; however, these respondents “do not reject religion—over half strongly agree that religion is an important part of their lives and nearly half will call themselves religious.”
The study, commissioned by Jewish organization Reboot, suggests that young people are finding their own routes to spirituality, instead of following what their parents might have raised them to believe. These new religious paths might offer young people new, perhaps nontraditional, options for marriage and childrearing, but they might just as often encourage so-called “old-fashioned” values.
Studies conducted for PBS’s 2006 documentary “Generation Next” found that many young people of the so-called “iPod era” are deferring marriage to “take care of themselves first.” This might mean attending college, traveling, or even having children. But marriage is not a prerequisite to any of those things. The need for adventure, for career betterment and for delaying the onset of adult life are three reasons that some—particularly women with higher educational degrees—are deferring marriage and motherhood.
But marriage isn’t dying. Maria Kefalas, a professor of sociology at St. Joseph’s College in Philadelphia interviewed by PBS, notes that, “Young women in the South and Midwest continue to marry, bear children in their early 20s and otherwise uphold the familial customs of the grandparents.” Kefalas says this group lives in “pockets of traditionalism ... in places like Idaho, Iowa and parts of Pennsylvania.”