Last month I went to a conference in Connecticut that was predominantly attended by 50- to 60-year-olds. On the last day I asked my new baby boomer friends how they were getting home. "Our husbands are picking us up," they said. "Must be nice," I responded sheepishly, trying not to think about the five-hour bus ride awaiting me. With a knowing smile, each of them patted my arm. "Stay single while you can," said one. "Wait until you’re older to get married. Don’t get married young like us," added another.
I wasn’t sure how to respond. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard that advice from a person in that age group.
The baby boomers have the highest divorce rates: According to a study by Bowling Green State University, divorce rates among couples over 50 have doubled in the last 20 years — in 2009, one in four couples that divorced were 50 or older.
As a 21-year-old college student, marriage is a conflicting topic. The philosophy of waiting for marriage — or avoiding it altogether — trickled down into Generation X before flooding into my generation, the Millennials. On one side, our parents and grandparents are telling us to wait. They remind us of the 50-percent divorce rate, the rising median age for married couples — currently 28 for men and 26 for women — and the increased financial and educational opportunities for women.
It’s easy to adapt to this mindset. We’re all set to postpone the walk down the aisle until we turn on the TV and the other side comes in — the media. With movies like "A Walk to Remember" and "The Notebook" squished in between Zales commercials and episodes of "Say Yes to the Dress," we wonder if we’re being cynical. We wonder if by avoiding marriage, we’re missing out on a vital experience — that we’ll miss the chance and grow old alone.
That’s the thing about marriage now — it’s no longer just an economic contract between two people. Increasingly, more Americans are choosing spouses with a similar economic profile. In 1970, the Pew Center found that 37 percent of married college-educated men had a wife with a bachelor’s degree. By 2007, 71 percent of them did. The days of "marrying up" are quickly vanishing. It is now widely acceptable to marry for emotional reasons.
The overall number of married couples has declined by more than 20 percent since 1960, yet whenever I log onto Facebook, my newsfeed is loaded with engagement photos. Sandwiched between two conflicting ideologies, part of me wants to feel happy for them. Most of them are financially well-off, childless college students only a year shy of graduation. A part of me makes me question the reasons young people are still choosing to get married when it’s not an economic necessity, especially when the entire institution and its implications are transforming so rapidly.
Since its creation, marriage was not designed to ensure affection, sexual satisfaction, love or friendship, and it still doesn’t now. Though the dramatic emotions emphasized in wedding dress advertisements suggest otherwise, it is clear that the rhetoric that marriage requires love or happiness stands on shaky ground.
So the question stands: Why get married, especially at a young age? Young people are struggling to answer this as 44 percent of Millennials and 43 percent of Gen Xers think that marriage is becoming obsolete, according to the Pew Research Center. If in most cases a ring on your finger doesn’t change anything, why put in on in the first place? When it comes to marriage I would heed the advice of the older generation: don’t do it, or just wait.
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