Marriage has undergone a radical shift in the last few decades. Back in the ’50s, it was seen as a partnership more than anything else, and oftentimes people simply married someone in their neighborhood that they thought would make a nice husband. Now, people want to marry someone that they think of as their one and only soulmate. Back then, marriage was mandatory to maintain social standing. Now, it’s increasingly optional, and many Millennials are even flirting with the idea of taking a real estate approach to the entire construct.
The biggest shift that everyone has noticed is that those who are getting married are doing it much later. In 1950, the average age of marriage was 20.3 for women and 22.8 for men. Today, it’s 27.1 for women and 29.2 for men.
But there’s another new interesting trend, one that was recently revealed in a report by the dating site eHarmony, which surveyed 2,084 adults who were either married or in long-term relationships,. In the past, it was common for a couple to get engaged fairly quickly, perhaps even after the first few dates. And even today, most age groups date for an average of five years before tying the knot. But not Millennials. According to the report, those between the ages of 25 and 34 knew each other for an average of six and a half years before marrying.
Some of the reasons for this are financial. After all, Millennials are saddled with student debt and financial issues, and weddings are an expensive business. Some of this is due to the fact that, as a demographic, Millennials think it’s important to “find yourself” and have a wide range of experiences before settling down.
But the results also mark an interesting revelation in how this age group perceives marriage. It’s often assumed that Millennials simply don’t care about marriage, but this suggests the opposite is true.
“People are not postponing marriage because they care about marriage less, but because they care about marriage more,” Benjamin Karney, a professor of social psychology at the University of California, recently told The New York Times.
Millennials want to avoid the marriages of convenience that they saw with their parents, only committing if they meet someone who they truly think is The One. This approach represents a major shift in the role that the entire social construct plays in a person’s life.
“Marriage used to be the first step into adulthood. Now it is often the last,” Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins, said. He refers to these bonds as “capstone marriages,” as it’s now seen as the last brick that you put into a successful life, the one you place once all of your other affairs are in order.
This mentality also changes the nature of dating a lot. Before, it was more common to have a series of committed relationships that ended once the couple realized they didn’t want to take the next step. Today’s young adults, however, are more likely to engage in casual sex until they find the one person that they actually want to commit to. The acclaimed anthropologist Helen Fisher has coined a phrase to describe this new system of dating norms: “fast sex, slow love.”
For more on the science of modern dating, check out why Science Says Women Aren’t Interested in Flashy Men.
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