With or without the liberalization of marriage, the millennial generation drags its feet down the aisle to the altar.
For the millennials, the generation born between 1982 and 2001, the experience of their parents’ marriages has not been encouraging. Only 60 percent of them grew up in a two-parent household, and now 44 percent say marriage is “obsolete.” As one millennial puts it, “Our grandparents, the Betty and Don Drapers, married young, and their breakups caused the divorce spike in the 1970s and 1980s.”
The millennials may indeed be victims of their parents’ experiences. According to psychotherapist and writer Dr. Tina Tessina, because many millennials have single parents and blended families, “they have little experience of what good marriages look like. The media has a lot focus on celebrities whose relationships are dysfunctional, and reality TV thrives on bad relationships featuring emotionally immature and dysfunctional people… It’s no surprise, then, that millennials are gun-shy. Where will they get their images of what functional relationships and healthy marriages look like?”
“While many millennials are hesitant to get hitched, most still support the institution of marriage for straight and same-sex couples alike. That said, 44 percent of the generation say marriage is becoming obsolete, compared to 35 percent of the Baby Boomers,” according to a Pew Study in 2010.
Millennials who plan a future together “more readily buy a house than a ring.” Two-thirds cohabit before marriage, and the numbers of unmarried couples buying a home have risen substantially. Cohabitation (“playing house”) tests their compatibility before marriage – except in the South, where signing the marriage certificate still usually precedes signing a mortgage. Robi Ludwig, a psychotherapist who surveys buyer habits, observes, “it’s almost like buying a home is the new engagement ring.”
“Increasingly, Americans and especially millennials see marriage as something that should be entered into only after you’ve taken several steps toward showing your maturity,” says Stephanie Coontz, co-chair of the Council on Contemporary Families. “It’s not something you jump into.”