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.
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.
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.
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.”
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?