Thursday, June 08, 2006

Article: Single by Choice?

I consider myself an armchair sociologist, so I’m always pleased to see moderately well researched articles about family structure. There was one such article in the Globe about never-married individuals...

More than ever before, men and women are living single well into their 30s, 40s, and beyond. It's been estimated that, as early as 2008, a majority of US households will be headed by an unmarried person - a shift that has already taken hold in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and 15 other states. People continue to marry later in life, especially in this state, and some are opting out altogether, posing Couplists a question of their own: "Why bother?"

In 1970, only 7.8 percent of Americans aged 30 to 34 had never married, and 65.4 percent of all men were hitched, as were 59.7 percent of all women. By 2003, the number of never-marrieds aged 30 to 34 had exploded to 27.9 percent. The number of all men who were married had dropped to 55.4 percent, and barely half of all women were wed.

Interesting read, but somewhat misleading. Some of these changes are by no means a recent phenomenon. Many happened (and have persisted) back in the 70's and 80's when the invention of the pill, the passing of no-fault divorce laws, and the rise of women's income/independence radically changed family relationships.

A big part of this shift to "single-ness" is simply the delay in the timing of marriage. If current patterns hold (and they might not) around 90% of Americans over the age of 15 will marry at some point in their lives before they die. But middle class people are waiting until their careers are locked in, almost always after college, and sometimes well into their 30's or 40's.

The real change is that our society has started to accept a basic truth. The old male-dominated household is not the norm. Many marriages based on the old patterns have fallen apart. Some people have forged new, more egalitarian marriages. Some people have chosen not to marry at all. Lots of people are waiting until their financially secure before they marry.

But above all else, there is no longer a strong social pressure to marry. There is no reason to grab and hold onto the person you are currently in a relationship with, because people see the reality that marriage doesn’t always work, and that when it does work, it requires a great deal of effort. This, I think, is a very good thing. Those who choose to marry will have much stronger relationships because they know what they’re getting into. And those who choose not to marry can enjoy their lives alone without feeling ostracized. And our decreasing birth rates will be offset by our high rates of immigration. Everybody wins.

Except, of course, people who are wedded (pun intended) to the 1950's idea of marriage. Those people are screwed.
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