Starting a career, paying off student loans, and buying a house are all momentous occasions on the journey to American adulthood. While many young men and women still achieve these milestones, tying the knot and settling down are events increasingly avoided on young Americans’ path toward maturity.
The increase in the average age at first marriage and the steep drop in the national marriage rate over the past four decades demonstrate the declining view of matrimony among 21st-century young people.
Americans are increasingly choosing the loose bonds of cohabitation to “test drive” a relationship, placing marriage as a tentative aspiration. Nearly 12 percent of U.S. couples are currently in a cohabiting relationship. Unfortunately, the increasingly favored lifestyle of living together outside of marriage is not necessarily a recipe for happily ever after.
Cohabiting couples are much more prone to separation and less likely to reconcile than married couples—even after the third year of living together. The relationship of cohabiting couples isn’t always enjoyable. According to studies on cohabitation, men and women who live together tend to report higher levels of depression, twice the rate of infidelity, and worse relationship quality than married couples.
Choosing to delay the walk down the aisle or forego marriage entirely could be an expensive decision. Men who are in a cohabiting relationship tend to have lower annual incomes than their peers who tied the knot. In one study, cohabitating men earned over $8,000 less per year than married men. The net worth of cohabiting households also tends to be significantly less than that of married households.
Married adults also tend to report better overall health, with over two-thirds of surveyed married couples reporting “excellent” or “very good” health. Those in cohabiting relationships are more likely to be current, regular drinkers and tend to have more problems with alcohol when compared to their married peers.
Choosing a test-run version of matrimony is not only hindering young couples from enjoying the social and economic benefits of marriage; it is also threatening the success of future generations.
The growing ambivalence toward marriage may leave even more children to experience the many social difficulties of growing up outside a married home. Children who live in non-married households are more likely to experience poverty than peers living in intact, married families. The same children are also more likely to exhibit behavioral problems and have lower academic achievement.
With more than four out of 10 children now born outside of marriage, renewing a culture that aspires to marriage is important not only for adults but also their children in need of a stable, married home.