The marriage rate is at its lowest point in history—so low that among all Americans 18 and older, there are now more single people than married ones for the first time ever. For this reason, some pundits are calling for an end to the institution of marriage.
The statistics on why men don’t want to get married are clear: 50% will admit that they’re just not ready; another 20% say they never plan on it. While women’s reasons for staying single aren’t quite as straightforward, their decision is quite revealing about the current state of gender relations.
A recent study from the Pew Research Center shows that men put a premium on finding a spouse who doesn’t work outside the home, while women seek a husband who does. In fact, more than half of all working wives would prefer to work part-time, mainly so they can handle the responsibilities of homemaking.
So Why is This Happening?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently reported not only that the marriage rate has fallen to an all-time low, but also that the labor participation rate has gone to an all-time high. The latter statistic, reported in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, was virtually ignored by the media, while the former has received significant attention.
Some have suggested that men are dropping out of work because their jobs are unstable and low-paying and it’s also hard to support a family when you aren’t married. Others have suggested that women have been forced into the workplace by a bad economy and are just delaying marriage in the meantime.
One thing remains clear: in a world where more people go to college, marry later in life, divorce more often, and spend longer in the workforce, it’s no surprise that men and women are marrying each other at lower rates than ever before.
The Role of Technology in Declining Marriage Rates
There is often a correlation between the decline of marriage and the rise in technology. The latter has encouraged women to find independence, while also allowing men to find additional “entertainment” options with less commitment.
Before you wonder what that entertainment is, don’t lie—you’ve seen it for yourself. We’re talking about online pornography (which one study suggests is more addictive than cocaine) and casual sex through websites like Ashley Madison (the website dedicated to married men seeking affairs).
This certainly isn’t lost on young people; according to a recent poll by Public Religion Research Institute, 69% of millennials support same-sex marriage while only 44% are interested in getting married themselves. Since its release in 2004, 40 million people have visited or tried to find a sugar baby online.
As long as men find it more desirable to find their amusement elsewhere, women will find it harder to find a husband ready to settle down.
The Role of Women in Declining Marriage Rates
There are many reasons for this. But the most glaring one is that men simply aren’t in the kind of financial position they used to be to support a family—and women know it.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that full-time working wives earned about 29% more than their husbands last year. This may explain why over 60% of married people find their spouse through work or social events, rather than meeting at church or through friends like in previous generations.
For all the talk of male privilege and oppression within our culture today, it’s important not to forget how far women have come since the days when they couldn’t vote, get credit cards without a man’s signature, or own property without being designated as “tenants by the entirety,” a form of ownership open only to men and women married to each other.
For many, it’s time that ends. As one writer put it, “Marriage isn’t about economics or politics or biology, but culture. It thrives in cultures where both sexes are equal—and equally responsible for creating new life.” By this measure, America is in trouble.
While there are plenty of hard-working single moms out there who find great strength in their status as unmarried mothers with full-time jobs, most women don’t want to find themselves in this position—it was never part of the feminine mystique.
Why Many Men Don’t Want To Get Married?
If you pay attention to mass media all these days, you might find it easy to believe that most men find the idea of marrying a woman repulsive.
In sitcoms and Hollywood films, marriage is often painted as a nightmare for women while never being depicted as a proposition that any sane man would consider making. In books and on news shows, young single men are presented as grouchy curmudgeons who aren’t interested in ever getting married—and even if they were, their ridiculous standards would surely shield them from an onslaught of desperate proposals.
As one comedian recently joked, “Marriage has become so emasculating for men today.”
For years now, pundits have been warning us about the rise of women and the fall of men. The media tells us ad nauseam that women are beating us in education, the job market, and even romance. Is it any wonder that so many men have been frightened into avoiding commitment at all costs? In a world where men are constantly told about their impending obsolescence, is it so surprising that more and more of them find themselves saying “Thanks—but I’ll pass?”
The flip side of this is that not only must women who find married life fulfilling find a way to defend it against those on the outside looking in; we also need to find a way to convince single men why they should want what we want out of life too.
If we don’t speak positively about marriage and family-formation as an institution and something worthy of our attention and respect, we’re going to find that even fewer people than ever before seeing it as a realistic option. Even if marriage rates rise in the future, we will find ourselves struggling to find good husbands and fathers for our children.
What It All Means
When you put all of these statistics together, one thing becomes indisputably clear: men are losing interest in marriage, while women are cautiously exploring their options outside of it. If marriage were an endangered species, then this would certainly be a good thing for the survival of the species. The trouble is that when just 9% of adults between 18 and 35 are married, there’s no telling how many more decades it will be before things balance out again—if they ever do.