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Do Millennial men want to marry?

A Time article, “Debunking the Myth of the Slippery Bachelor,” declared men want to marry as much as women do, according to a study of 5,200 people 21- to 65-plus years old. The standout were men ages 25 to 49 — they were less inclined to get hitched than the women.

Why?  Men fear marriage

A few years ago I interviewed Daryl Motte and Seth Conger, two longtime friends who ran the irreverent dating advice blog, We’re Just Not There Yet, that produced a book by the same name. They told me are just not there yet when it comes to marriage, and a big part of that is the fear of the D-word: Divorce.

It’s a valid fear. Daryl and Seth’s generations — Daryl’s a Gen-Xer, Seth’s a Millennial — are already divorcing at surprising rates. Of those who married in 2009, 43.9 percent were men in their age group, 25 to 34, according to the Census Bureau’s “Marital Events of Americas: 2009,” while of those divorcing, 23.7 percent — more than half — were ages 25 to 34. For men ages 15 to 24, 19.5 percent married and 3.8 percent divorced.

“Only six in 10 (Millennials) grew up with both parents,” says Paul Taylor, executive vice president of Pew Research. “So broken homes (note: can we stop saying that!?!), never-formed homes, re-formed homes — it’s part of their life experience, and … they are repeating that pattern, perhaps even more so.”

In AskMen’s discussion of Popenoe’s 2006 study, “The State of Our Unions,” it’s clear that along with the fear of losing freedom and space, dealing with emotional baggage and compromise, feeling pushed into something they may not be ready for, and the idea of having one sexual partner forever, the D-word weighs heavily on men:

When we’ve been divorced and run through the wringer of the court system, many of us are reluctant (read: “terrified”) to risk a second commitment. Nowadays, we aren’t exactly chomping at the bit to sign a contract legally allowing a woman to clean us out financially. Successful achievers — those of us who have built companies and high-powered careers from the ground up — are especially afraid of being forced to hand over all the fruits of our hard labor and may make the decision never to get involved in a serious relationship again. tweet

Even those haven’t been through a divorce have come to expect it. In a study of newlywed women, half said they expected infidelity would be part of their marriage and 72 percent said they’d probably experience divorce. With so many couples starting their new life together with those sorts of expectations — even as they vow “until death do we part” — it’s no wonder they become self-fulfilling prophecies. Nor is it surprising that men might be hesitant.

Hesitant but not anti.

Earlier this year, the Guardian asked its Millennial readers if marriage was dead; 66 percent said no, they want to wed at some point, 22 percent said perhaps they’ll tie the knot and just 12 percent said no way. Thomas, a 27-year-old from the Netherlands was clear on why he won’t:

To me, marriage feels like a relic from the past. Marriage seems like a contract from ancient times to prevent everybody from getting kids everywhere. Nowadays we have contraception. I feel that getting a child together is much more of a proof of love and commitment than a contract and a white dress are. A contract which is broken by about one third of my generation’s parents, by the way. tweet

While he’s right that having a child ups the ante — while not quite guaranteeing a commitment, it does bind a couple, married or not, for life.

Mark Pfeffer, a Chicago psychotherapist who runs an “unwed anxiety” group for thirty-somethings at his Panic, Anxiety and Recovery Center, says it isn’t divorce per se that scares men, it’s the financial ramifications of breaking up — having to face a “50 percent chance of misery.” If someone hasn’t married by thirty-something — and the age for a first marriage now is 28 for men and 26 for women — then he or she has most likely been to enough weddings and experienced a good share of divorces to see what Pfeffer calls “the carnage” of a marital breakup. That’s enough to rattle a young person’s idea of wedded bliss.

And they’re also at “that stage of life where they are building their income, their economic independence. The worst thing would be if they were to lose it all,” says David Popenoe, who headed the National Marriage Project at Rutgers before it moved to the University of Virginia under Bradford Wilcox’s leadership.

For Daryl, that is a very real possibility: “I don’t see marriage as an option until the (divorce) laws are equal. They’re heavily weighed against men.”

Recently, Hanna Rosin declared that family court is much kinder to men than ever before in a Salon article:

“the great revolution in family court over the past 40 years or so has been the movement away from the presumption that mothers should be the main, or even sole, caretakers for their children. … on the whole, courts are fair to men, particularly men who can afford a decent lawyer.” tweet

Her statements angered men’s rights groups and others (some who point out the irony of her statement “afford a decent lawyer,” because many men can’t — what about their rights?)

With that background, it’s easy to understand why some men might be hesitant to tie the knot in the kind of one-size-fits-all traditional marriage model we’ve been practicing, which is yet another reason why the marital models in The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels will help brides- and grroms-to-be — and, in this case, especially the grooms — get the marriage they want without vague vows of “until death do us part.” We don’t need promises anymore; we need conversations and contracts that hold people accountable so marriage isn’t something to fear for men or women.

Shouldn’t marriage be about what you gain, not lose?

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11 Responses to “Do young men fear marriage?”

  1. blurkel says:

    As the father of two marriage-age sons, I can attest that fear of marriage isn’t why they are still single. It is that they saw how my marriage was more trial by ordeal than it was of any positive benefit. They don’t see interactions with women as being of much value compared to the risk of pairing with a witch. They already know that their control over their own lives is not worth the surrender to a woman’s control. Considering the cost-benefit analysis of marriage, they have no use for it, and know no women worthy of the challenge.

    And don’t blame me for this – they came up with these thoughts without any input from me.

    • Northern_Guy says:

      Blame you say, Blurkel? Sounds like your sons know all they need to know. Trial by ordeal, wow – words to remember. I describe what has happened with modern (feminist) females is that their list of expectations for men is humorously high (often considering what they “bring”) and criticism of men is beyond rampant. It’s ridiculous. Young men have seen the pain their fathers and uncles have endured, and now face even more ferocious women in the mating arena. Opting out is normally associated with cowardice, but in my mind it’s staying in the mating arena out of fear of societal (or parental) disapproval that is the greater act of cowardice. Your boys are voting with their feet and opting out – and this takes much bigger b@lls than anyone these days wants to admit. If they find purpose and happiness in life despite what society has done to itself, they have won the game which so many will ultimately fail.

  2. Joseph C. says:

    I think you also forgot to mention paternity fraud. According to this post
    41 out of 50 states in America still legalize paternity fraud. Thats quite a number of states! Also, I think TIME is a bit biased. They want to save what is a dying institution. How many men do you see complaining about being single and wishing they were married?

  3. Men respond to incentives. When it comes to marriage, there are decreasing numbers of incentives for men. Shaming men into marriage is an even worse way to get men to fulfill the feminine imperative.

    • OMGchronicles
      Twitter: OMGchronicles

      I don’t think anyone is “shaming” men into marriage (although there have been times when society — that means men and women — believed marriage “tamed” men). And actually, marriage has historically been much more beneficial to men than women (men could beat and rape their wives and the wives had no recourse). Now that women have economic freedom and both men and women want an equal partnership, it would seem that marriage might even be more appealing to men; there’s less to lose.

      • blurkel says:

        Less to lose? Sure – which makes it so much more of a price to pay to meet feminine relationship needs.

        It isn’t without reason that there is an old saying which goes “A man isn’t complete until he’s married – then he’s finished”.

      • Madshangi says:

        Yes, people are trying to shame men back into marriage. But it’s not going to work.

  4. Carlos says:

    I’m 25 years old, love children BUT I’ve seen personally multiple brutal divorce stories and definately don’t want that for me. The day male pregnancy becomes possible, and I have money for it, I’ll be patient zero. Mark my words, better get pregnant by yourself than risk losing your children to divorce and when this becomes possible, you’ll see me doing it

    • OMGchronicles
      Twitter: OMGchronicles

      Carlos, there is such a thing as a prenup. If you get married, you already have one — the state’s prenup. Why allow the state to determine what happens to you? Talk to your partner, come up with marital plan you both agree to that addresses not only money but kids and lifestyle, and get it legalized. You actually can control what happens in the event of a divorce.

      • Corey says:

        Prenups mean nothing if th woman has a good divorce lawer. They are thrown out on grounds as simple as ‘the womans lawyer wasn’t paid as much as the man’s when the prenup was made’; which apparently makes it unfair and invalid.

  5. Staying Single says:

    Very risky for many of us men to get married again after what has happened to us already when our ex wife cheated on us. And many of us were really the real committed ones which it turned out to be a real shame for us even though it wasn’t our fault to begin with.

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