As soon as we are able to vaguely comprehend the concepts of love and partnership, we are socialized to believe that marriage is a necessary and seemingly unavoidable part of what constitutes a full and meaningful life. Little girls envision white picket fences along with white wedding dresses. Little boys are preened to believe that coming home to a loving wife and a home-cooked meal is an ideal, an abstract marker of ‘success.’ In an era of unrivalled choice, of online dating, of increased independence and self-made opportunity, it appears the institution of marriage is becoming less and less attractive.
Traditionalists might be scandalized by the mere suggestion, but the notion is backed by significant statistics. According to studies by the Pew Research Center, the very nature of the American family is being reshaped. In the last half-century, American adults are marrying much later in life, while a burgeoning faction of the population is foregoing marriage altogether. The number of unmarried adults in the US is at an all-time high since the 1960s, while one-in-four parents are unmarried. The number of people parenting children outside of wedlock has risen from 7% in 1968, to 25% in 2017.
Why has the institution of marriage become less desirable? Some might suggest the economic climate is to blame. Economic readiness is most definitely an influential factor in one’s willingness to wed. And what of public opinion? The world has experienced an undeniable paradigm shift when it comes to sexuality, the social demands of women, expected gender roles and the age-old institution of marriage. People appear to be unshackled from the expectation that one should be wed by the age of thirty. Life is expanding and becoming a grander, more liberal, global endeavour. We are consumed with longings for adventure, travel, independence, financial freedom and sexual and civil liberty rather than a life-long partner. As we venture into waters of gender ambiguity and polyamory, the question remains, have we outgrown marriage?