Canada is Free and Freedom is Its Nationality

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Thursday, May 5, 2011

IMFC "Marital Mindsets, Current Realities, and Possible Futures"

Please Note: This is a summary of the events and speeches in my own words for educational, information, and entertainment purposes only. It is not the speakers' exact words and should not be taken as such. It also may contain errors due to the nature of the medium. I am not responsible for any of them, use at your own risk.

The first keynote speech was by Mark Regnerus on the subject of Marital Mindsets, Current Realities, and Possible Futures. The primary topic was discussing how “emerging adults", in their late teens and early twenties think about marriage and intimate relationships.

Many people assume that what young people want is to “hook up”, however it seems that 90-95% of emerging adults actually want to get married.

Just… not now.

There has been a slow increase in the age of marriage to 26 for women and 28 for men in the United States. Inevitably, this has lead to a change in the purpose of dating. Most dating relationships do not end in cohabitation or marriage. However, many of these emerging adults do want to get married right now, 20-30% of single young people and 40-50% of young people who are cohabitating (percentage depends on gender. Women are more eager to get married than men, although men tend to appreciate marriage more once they are married).

Why don’t they get married then?

For one thing there is the attitude that if most of their peers are cohabiting, then it must be the right thing to do.

In Canada the median age of marriage is even older, 27 for women and 29 for men. Will this continue going up? Not indefinitely, the average age of first marriage probably has a ceiling.

What about those who have never married?

In 1970, 35.8% of men and 54.7% of women age 20-24 had never been married. In 2010 the numbers were 88.7% and 79.3%. For those 25-29, the percentage was 10.5% of men, and 19.1% of women. In 2010 it was 62.2% of men and 47.8% of women. In delaying marriage people are ignoring fertility, which peaks before 29. Indeed, many people, at least partly due to the pill, are very ignorant of and out of touch with issues of fertility.

There has been a dramatic drop in marriages per 1000 unmarried women from 2000-2004. People are not just getting married later however, as the rates are dropping at every age, not just younger ages. There is a flight from marriage.

Why are people getting married later? Some of the issues are economic and structural, others are cultural.

Economic and structural issues,

Children are no longer producers, they are consumers, they just cost money. (However this does not explain why marriage rate did not decline in the earlier part of the 20th century, as children have been consumers not producers for a long time now)

Increased educational and employment opportunities for women.

The low cost of sex. In many ways this is an exchange between men and women, and in the past men have had to “pay” much more in terms of demonstrating commitment and earning power to get it. These days, they do not have to pay much.

The high cost of living in metro areas, where young people prefer to live. Would affordable housing increase the marriage rates? Likely not, however.

Cultural issues.

Religious people are more likely to marry, but on the other hand they also want to go to college, etc.

Motivations for delaying marriage are couched in cultural narratives. Emerging adults hold marriage in high regard. However they see it as a trade, you will only give up the freedom of single-hood, if you get something better in return. In the past there were less perks to being single that they had to trade for marriage.

They receive little help in preparing them for marriage, home economics for example, has been largely dropped, so that they do not know how to do basic things like balance a chequebook that would prepare them for marriage. They have also no help in understanding their early relationships.

The cultural stories that encourage later marriage.

There is no rush. If you believe that you are likely to stay married to one person for the rest of your life, many people (especially men) feel that there is no rush to get into that.

Be your own person. Emerging adults want to experiment, to “find out who they are”. Marriage is like a full time job, it would interfere with their life. One young woman was quoted talking about how the main thing is to make sure you are your own person. You don’t know who you will be in 10 years if you get married young, you could be a different person.

Lots of young people think they don’t know who they are or what they want, so they use dating to find out what they like.

Another reason people give for delaying marriage is that they believe it is “too soon” to have children. For middle-class emerging adults marriage=children, indeed there is an almost pre-contraception mentality that the two are a package deal. Again, this doesn’t take peak fertility into account.

Many believe that the 20s are the time to travel. It is unclear why this would be prevented by marriage, indeed in his experience marriage, and the combining of resources, actually opens up the possibility of travel. But this is part of the freedom narrative.

Parental resistance is another issue. Parents warn their children that marriage is hard work. They discourage marriage by financially assisting their single, but not their married, children. If mothers want their daughters to delay marriage, this has a significant impact on the age at which their daughters marry.

Another reason is the belief that you must find sexual chemistry, and that this will be an instantaneous thing that cannot improve. In reality, such things take time and communication. That is why they believe that abstinence before marriage is foolish, and a risk factor for divorce. In reality, the more pre-marital partners a women has, the less chance they have of getting married.

These cultural narratives discourage early marriage, but are not in line with the data.

Emerging adults esteem marriage, but they have lost confidence and trust in it as an institution. For example, 60% of children born to mothers 24-29 are born to unmarried women. It also seems that those who need the benefits of marriage the most, those who are poor or less educated, are the least likely to get married.

Marriage is not disappearing. It is getting deinstitutionalized. People want the kind of things that destabilize marriage, but the unintended consequences are high.

Emerging adults believe that marriage is a “story” that belongs to the late 20s and 30s.

There are two ways of viewing marriage, there are those who are marriage naturalists - you become an adult when you get married, and marriage is a natural progression in life. Marriage planners believe that you get married when you have become an adult, marriage is something you plan into your life.

It seems that people love choices, but hate choosing.

A strong predictor of early marriage for men is their level of interest in religion. This does not seem to be the case for women.

In the past people were channeled into marriage by many institutions, now it seems that the only the church is channeling them towards marriage.

What will happen in the future?

Average age at first marriage will hit a ceiling. However marriage rates (and with them divorce rates) will decline. The price of sex seems to have stabilized at a a low rate. The number of stay-at-home dads will quickly hit a ceiling. As fertility declines inter-generational relationships will grow more difficult as the gap between grandparents and grandchildren widen.

Will cultural conservatives win out by having lots of children? Probably not, there are many cultural pressures that discourage this, and most people are eventually pragmatists.

There is a moral hazard, as independence from marriage is seen as a right, which the government must support.

Question 1: Do you think the wedding of Prince William and Kate, and the excellent sermon given at that marriage, is likely to have any influence?

Answer 1: Not optimistic that it will have any long run affect on marriage.

Question 2: On the comments that inter-generational relationships will suffer. Has four children, only one is married. Is worried that we have lost the sense of the sacrament of marriage. How can they encourage their cohabiting children to marry? Should they withdraw financial support?

Answer 2: Sounds like questioner is a marriage naturalists, yet somehow that generation has given birth to marriage planners. Talking about sacramental aspect of marriage is a foreign language for many. And with the low price of sex due to the pill, why marry? You can have all the benefits of marriage without actually getting married. Women like the idea of marriage. Men are already getting the benefits of marriage without the costs.  Withdrawing financial support may help to channel them towards marriage.

Question 3: Why do you think the number of stay-at-home dads will peak?

Answer 3: Doesn’t think that men on average feel like being stay at home dads. Stay-at-home dads are more likely to be between jobs or underemployed, it is not the plan, it is an interim situation.

Question 4: Is a pediatrician and mother of two young children. He doesn’t address issue of helicopter parent phenomena. But it would be related. Children are still attached to their parents at older ages, so they feel like they cannot marry because they are not their own person yet.

Answer 4: That makes a good deal of sense. It is also connected to the issue of fewer children, parents focus more on the few children and expect more from them.

Question 5: The percentage of men who remain unmarried has gone up much more than the percentage of women at the same age. Who are the women marrying?

Answer 5: Men are marriageable later, and there tends to be an age gap between men and their wives. So you can’t just look across the chart, as older men are marrying the younger women.

One last thing to note, is that emerging adults begin cohabiting today at the same age as they would have gotten married in earlier years.

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