Young adults are breaking with nearly every matrimonial tradition. What is behind the shift?
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Something has gone terribly wrong with marriage when 74 percent of young adults delay it or choose not to pursue it at all.
Consider. Throughout most of mankind’s history, one’s general life path has been predictable: you grew up, became acquainted with a member of the opposite sex, and became a husband or wife. Marriage led to babies. Children birthed grandchildren, who later wed and repeated the cycle. With few exceptions, if people were single past age 27, they felt it would be too late for them to enjoy grandchildren.
Then Generation Y came along. Suddenly, the old path shifted. Securing a good education and career neared the top of the list for these “millennials.” Close friendships, partying and no-strings-attached sex were right up there as well.
Emphasis on these pursuits swept aside the process for finding a husband or wife and starting a family. Unlike generations past, marrying before age 27 is now considered too soon!
Those in Generation Y, though, are not against marriage or even relationships, for that matter. They just prefer to wed later.
“This distinction—that we still marry, but do so at a more mature age than we used to—is commonly called ‘The Marriage Delay,’” a Time editorial stated. “Delay, however, is a bad choice of words…Young people don’t delay marriage; they get married when they can marry because they just have so much more to do before they consider themselves ready to marry.
“Fifty years ago, after all, a woman didn’t need to attend college or have a career before marrying, and she didn’t need to ‘live on her own’ to get to know herself. Today, a young woman needs to graduate college, perhaps get some grad school, and try a few jobs before she finds the profession that fits her. Once she has established her own merits—her own self-worth—she’s ready to shop for a husband; she might be 30 by then. Did she delay marriage? Hardly. She was racing through society’s hurdles as fast as she could.”
As with this marriage trend, there are similar statistics regarding other major facets of life: “The Millennial generation is forging a distinctive path into adulthood,” the Pew Research Center stated. “Now ranging in age from 18 to 31, they are relatively unattached to organized politics and religion, linked by social media, burdened by debt, distrustful of people, in no rush to marry—and optimistic about the future.”
The organization also stated that “half of Millennials (50%) now describe themselves as political independents and about three-in-ten (29%) say they are not affiliated with any religion. These are at or near the highest levels of political and religious disaffiliation recorded for any generation in the quarter-century that the Pew Research Center has been polling on these topics.”
Society rationalizes that these young adults have simply forged a distinct path for themselves in both the areas of religion and marriage. Yet others see real trouble down the no-nuptials-until-I’m-older-or-not-at-all road—and its societal implications.
University of Virginia sociology professor W. Bradford Wilcox cautioned in The National Review: “The Millennial retreat from marriage is particularly worrisome because it hasn’t stopped many of them from having children. In 2012, 47 percent of births to Millennial women took place outside marriage, a troubling trend because such children are much more likely to end up in single-parent families that put them at higher risk of educational failure, poverty, and emotional distress.”
Later in the article, Mr. Wilcox stated, “If today’s events in Europe, not to mention of the last century, tell us anything, it is that a generation of young adults ‘unmoored’ from the institutions of work, family, and civil society, and distrustful of their fellow citizens, can end up succumbing to the siren song of demagogues, especially if the economy dips into a depression.
“It’s for that reason, among others, that policymakers, civic leaders, and business executives, not to mention young adults themselves, need to redouble their efforts to revive the American economy and better integrate today’s Millennials into the nation’s economic, familial, and civic fabric.”
Families are the “cells” of society. A society without normal, healthy marriages that produce strong families is like a body without normal, healthy cells that produce properly functioning organs. Therefore to build a stronger society, it is necessary that an entire generation realizes they are heading down the wrong track—and turn back before it is too late.
Generation Y is a product of its upbringing. Millennials have seen the marriage institution belittled, ridiculed and disregarded throughout their lives by the mainstream media. Many who are pessimistic about it were most likely raised by parents who themselves were divorced. In such an environment, who would not consider marriage less than fondly?
“I’ve always been slightly hesitant about the idea of marriage,” a Telegraph opinion piece stated. “Apart from the tiny little issue that I may never find The One or will accidentally pick the wrong One, I have larger reservations about the institution as a whole.
“The idea of spending thousands on what’s meant to be ‘the best day of your life’—including a dress you’ll never, ever wear again—combined with the not insignificant fact that the wedding certificate only requires your father’s name and not your mother’s, puts me off the whole thing.
“But at the same time, even though I’m still only 24, I know I want a family, and I’m practical enough to realise that marriage will offer my future babies and I…a lot more security than just living with their dad would. I know it’s not the most romantic of views, but my parents split up when I was a teenager, and I haven’t really ever seen a blissful marriage up close so I’m not fully set on the idea of publicly committing to someone—only to have to later break those vows.”
To a certain degree, this mindset is understandable. Millennials were the first generation to be raised by Generation X (those born between 1965 and 1980), which was the first era to experience the commonality of divorce. This trend meant they went on to forge their own paths in a similar way that millennials are doing now.
“Orphans as parents—that’s not a bad way to understand Generation X parents,” an editorial in The Wall Street Journal explained. “Having grown up without stable homes, we pour everything that we have into giving our children just that, no matter how many sacrifices it involves. Indeed, Gen-X’s quest for perfect nests drove us to take out more home equity loans and to spend more on remodeling, per capita, than any generation before it, according to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.”
During the millennial generation, the concept of raising children was transformed. Never before were youth exposed to so much unsupervised television, violent video games, and all the vices the Internet afforded. Nor did so many mothers have to work outside the home to single-handedly support a family, instead of staying at home with the children to teach and nurture them.
“In many communities, a generation is being raised expecting that fathers will be around intermittently, that adult relationships will be unstable,” The Chicago Tribune reported in an article titled “Millennials Pass on Marriage and Mortgages.” “They will carry that expectation into their own adult lives. They will also carry economic and psychological handicaps, because kids raised in these unstable families will have fewer emotional and financial resources invested in their upbringing and education.”
In addition, since they often do not have jobs until well after their teen years, many millennials reach adulthood with zero savings for marriage, a family, or a home. On top of that, they often are in debt with student loans taken out for pricey graduate degrees or have maxed-out credit cards.
Some millennials have even watched their divorced mothers and fathers “celebrate” separation proceedings with upside-down wedding cakes and ceremonies in which the bride retraces her steps up the aisle.
“Marriage has shifted from being the cornerstone to the capstone of adult life,” the study “Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America” stated: “No longer the foundation on which young adults build their prospects for future prosperity and happiness, marriage now comes only after they have moved toward financial and psychological independence. It’s not hard to understand this mindset, especially given that many of today’s young adults are children of divorce and express worry about divorce themselves; they view marriage as something that should not be undertaken without a suitable exit strategy. Unfortunately, declining job prospects for Middle Americans may simply put this capstone ideal out of reach for many.
“Moreover, one of the primary reasons for getting married—starting a family—is increasingly viewed as a relic of the past. The institution of marriage, and even the presence of two parents, are seen as nice but not necessary for raising children. Thus, even when a baby is coming, many young adults see no need to rush to the altar. Finally, many young adults in romantic relationships greatly overestimate the chances that they have already met their future spouse, which makes them vulnerable to sliding into parenthood even though they haven’t married.”
Yet the effects of this can be tragic.
The study continued: “…nearly 40 percent of cohabiting twentysomething parents who had a baby between 2000 and 2005 split up by the time their child was five; that’s three times higher than the rate for twentysomething parents who were married when they had a child. The cohabitants were also more than three times more likely than married parents to move on to a cohabiting or marital relationship with a new partner if their relationship did break up. Researchers paint a sorry picture of the effect these disruptions have; children suffer emotionally, academically, and financially when they are thrown onto this kind of relationship carousel.
“This isn’t to say that unmarried mothers and fathers are faring much better emotionally than their children. New findings in this report show that unmarried twentysomething parents, both women and men, report high rates of depression and dissatisfaction; the mood among cohabiting parents is a little better than that of singles but still gloomier than that of married mothers and fathers. Actually, singles and cohabitants without children are also more likely to be depressed than are young married men and women. Compared to married twentysomething men, their single and cohabiting peers are less satisfied with their lives and markedly more likely to drink too much…”
Could too much divorce and cynical attitudes, among other aspects, be the answer to what has gone terribly wrong with marriage?
Addressing these factors may contribute to some improvement, but ultimately cannot change the pattern. To understand the true reason, another Generation Y trend needs to be considered.
Since the statement was made that something has gone terribly wrong with marriage, it is fair to wonder whether something has gone terribly wrong with Generation Y. From the perspective of past generations, the answer could be “yes.”
While millennials are open-minded and tech-savvy, they are also considered the “Me” Generation—meaning they focus only on themselves, are driven by their emotions, question established morals in order to benefit themselves, are rude, lax in their appearances, lack self-control and commitment, do not respect authority, and do not consider premarital sex taboo.
There is a real reason for these characteristics—and it directly relates to one of the parts of life millennials steer clear of: religion.
“The State of the Bible survey, conducted by the Barna Group and the American Bible Society, shows that 19 percent of American adults are ‘skeptical’ about the Bible and 19 percent are ‘engaged’ with the book,” The Washington Times stated.
“It’s the first time in the four years of the survey that the two groups are tied, with skeptics growing by 10 percentage points since 2011. The shift is attributed in large part to the growing doubts of the millennial generation and Generation X.
“‘I think young people have always questioned their parents, questioned the church,’ said Roy Peterson, president of the American Bible Society. ‘In our experience, they may not necessarily be coming back like previous generations. Young people might have said, “God’s word is written by God, and it’s an important book.” Today the skeptics are saying, “It’s just like any other piece of literature, and it’s no different from that.”’
“Only 36 percent of the millennials said the phrase ‘a religious person’ described them very well, compared with 52 percent of the Gen Xers, 55 percent of the baby boomers and 61 percent of the Silent Generation,” The Associated Press reported. “And they’re significantly less religious than their immediate predecessors, the Gen Xers. When they were the same age, almost half of the Gen Xers—47 percent—identified themselves as religious.
“The 64 percent of the millennials who say that they are not religious ‘is the highest for any age group we’ve ever measured,’ [Paul Taylor, Pew’s executive vice president and co-author of the report] said.”
A Business Insider article titled “Millennials Are America’s Most Godless Grown-Ups” highlighted another telling study: “The position that humans evolved and God had nothing to do with it has grown in popularity, with nearly twice as large a share of respondents believing this in 2014 than in 1982.
“Gallup found that education, religious behavior, and age all were big factors in how one views human origins. The younger, better-educated, and less religious you are, the more likely you are to agree with the scientific consensus on where we come from…Age is especially interesting: almost two-thirds of 18- to 29-year-olds believe in evolution, while just 39% of people over 65 do. Millennials are the only age group with a majority believing in evolution.”
This is where the significant generation gap enters. Yes, modern life’s hurdles hinder marriage. Yes, bad economies hinder marriage. Yes, high divorce rates hinder marriage. But has anyone considered that prior generations with more biblical knowledge yielded more marriages?
After all, the concept of marriage comes from the Bible!
Deep at its core, the Bible is a book about marriage. From Genesis to Revelation, it has all the information pertaining to the who, what, when, where, why and how of marriage. The following is just a preview from the book of Proverbs:
Is it any wonder that a generation not reading these verses does not marry as much?
Hebrews 13:4 makes the ultimate marriage statement: “Marriage is honorable in all…” According to Strong’s Concordance of the Bible, the word honorable means “valuable, that is, (objectively) costly, or (subjectively) honored, esteemed, or (figuratively) beloved.” Throughout the King James Version, this word is translated “dear,” “honorable” and “most precious.”
In other words, marriage is something valuable, costly, to be honored, esteemed, beloved, held dear, as something most precious in life.
Sadly, not many today can say they feel this way!
Marriage within God’s guidelines brings unparalleled blessings, the likes of which Proverbs calls “favor of the Lord.” What a contrast to the modern view of marriage! If people in younger generations were directed to pick up their Bibles, these verses would pop in front of their eyes! They would realize that they have been missing out by putting off something God calls “honorable.” They would realize that they have been led down the wrong path by society. And they would realize it is time to ask for directions.
Recall Mr. Wilcox’s warning: “If today’s events in Europe, not to mention of the last century, tell us anything, it is that a generation of young adults ‘unmoored’ from the institutions of work, family, and civil society, and distrustful of their fellow citizens, can end up succumbing to the siren song of demagogues, especially if the economy dips into a depression.”
Jeremiah was a prophet of God who preached and wrote during one of the most difficult times of ancient Israel’s history—when Jerusalem fell into the hands of foreign rulers due to their disobedience of God’s laws.
Not coincidentally, Jeremiah wrote of a generation that had taken a wrong turn from God’s ways: “Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush…” (Jer. 6:15).
As a result, God advised His people to ask for directions: “Thus says the Lord, Stand you in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and you shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein” (vs. 16).
The Bible shows that Generation Y, X, and all other generations alive today face difficulties in their relationships because they do not look to God and His Word as the ultimate source of wisdom.
“Today’s twentysomething men and women get little in the way of constructive guidance on the topic of marriage,” the “Knot Yet” study showed. “To the extent marriage is a topic at all, it’s often framed as something best left for a young adult’s late twenties or thirties, often after a string of failed relationships. Media images have largely steered clear of addressing the central role that parenthood continues to play in the lives of most twentysomethings.
“Equally important, today’s relationship culture offers virtually no signposts for young adults seeking to navigate romance, sex, and relationships in ways that will be fruitful for their current lives and their future families.”
Schools do not teach effective marriage skills. Neither do educators, religionists, policymakers, the media, and fathers and mothers who have not themselves been taught to parent.
“Home economics” classes may include activities such as decorating an uncooked egg and pretending it is a baby, or taking a make-believe husband out for a picnic, but do not teach how to live with a spouse. Boys may be advised to read literature such as Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, but they enter adulthood with no idea of what women need, other than solving everything with “Yes, dear.”
Instead, they have been immersed in a culture in which people’s word is no longer their bond and the phrase “I do” simply means “sure, whatever” and “perhaps…”
Because 50 percent of Generation Y has divorced parents, they have not learned through observation that a healthy marriage takes diligence and involves years of character building and cooperation. No wonder it makes more sense to millennials to remain single longer rather than to start a family!
Millennials have been shortchanged by the idea that marriage is merely a “tradition”—not an institution and a necessity for any stable society—along with the thought that they can be self-sufficient with no religion or Creator to guide them.
It is time to stop, retrace steps, and ask for directions. It is time to clear away any and all misconceptions about marriage. It is time to ask for the old paths.
Turning to the Bible is the only real solution.
For God’s direction on dating, courtship and marriage, including how you can have a successful and long-lasting one, read Dating and Courtship – God’s Way, You Can Build a Happy Marriage, and The Purpose of Marriage – Ever Obsolete?. All these informative books are free of charge and will help you better understand the concept of marriage.
Regardless of what path you may have started down, a wonderful and stable life with a loving spouse can be a reality for you.