Blocks to Millennial Marriages
by Emily Macke
As the Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments regarding the possible redefinition of marriage, changes in today’s attitude toward the institution of marriage have been under the spotlight. Two recent opinion pieces considered the perspective of millennials – those born between 1980 and 2000 – toward saying, “I do.”
Carol Costello, a CNN news anchor, interviewed journalism students at her alma mater, Kent State University, to find the pulse of their views on life, marriage and raising a family. In her piece, “Ready for the marriage apocalypse?” which accompanied video highlights, Costello surmises, “Talk to any millennial and you can envision an America virtually marriage-free, with everyone happily single.”
Though Costello’s poll of ten young adults is hardly a representative sample, projecting their attitudes on the 80 million millennials in the United States does paint a dismal view of the future of marriage. All ten students – some more reluctantly than others – agree that someday they would like to be married. Most agree that they would like to be married by age 30, but no hands shoot confidently in the air when asked if they would like to be married by age 26.
“I didn’t go to college for four years to be a mom,” 21-year-old Candace Monacelli told Costello. “There’s no housewife degree. I’ve worked my butt off for four years to get this degree. You want to use it. You want to be successful. You want to have that happy part of your life as well.”
Similarly, Jackie Demate, 21, said, “I would have a very hard time justifying spending $20,000 on a wedding when I could go to Europe.” When Costello pressed her, saying, “Wow, some people would say, with that attitude, you are undermining the moral foundation of this country!” Demate confidently replies, “But, Europe!”
Demate continued, “I’m really looking for a travel buddy. And I don’t think you need a wedding ring to prove that you love someone. I see a lot of people get married too soon or stay together and are unhappy because they are afraid to be alone. And I would rather be alone, successful and happy than in a relationship where I’m not happy. … I’m OK being single forever. As long as I’m happy.”
The subject of money seems to be a stumbling block for many millennials in their thoughts about marriage.
Millenial columnist Anthony D’Ambrosio opined in the USA Today that his generation isn’t equipped to handle marriages. The 29-year-old was married in 2012 and is now divorced. Among the five reasons he listed as inhibiting successful marriages today, finances and technology were key.
“Finances cripple us,” he wrote. D’Ambrosio cited the increased cost of living and the challenge of finding a “job that can provide an income that will help you live comfortably while paying all of these bills” as differences between millennials and their parents and grandparents.
What D’Ambrosio might not consider, however, is that a “$200,000” education or “$300,000-plus” for a home might not be necessary to a happy marriage. But he writes, “Part of life is being able to live. Not having the finances to do so takes away yet another important aspect of our relationships. It keeps us inside, forced to see the life everyone else is living.”
Costello also found her interviewees longing for a debt-free beginning to marriage. Emily Crille, 21, said, “[I]t’s really hard to plan a wedding, or even think about something like that when you owe so much money, you don’t have a job, and you don’t have a home.”
Scandinavians have a startlingly high rate of unmarried couples (according to USA Today, 82 percent of couples have their first child outside of marriage), and so Costello asked her producer to learn more.
Mikael Anteskog Adler, a 35-year-old man from Stockholm, Sweden, said, “To put it short, marriage costs money (party, clothes, rings, honeymoon trip, etc.) and gives no significant advantages, as there are no economic or legal advantages and no real social pressure to get married, or anyone frowning on premarital sex and cohabitation.”
Money isn’t all that is weighing millennials’ decisions about marriage or their ability to commit to lifelong marital love.
D’Ambrosio’s other four reasons why “marriages don’t work anymore” revolve around the impact of technology and social media. “We’ve developed relationships with things, not each other,” he wrote. He considers that a hypothetical couple celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary “were talking to each other at dinner, walking with each other holding hands instead of their phones. They weren’t distracted by everything around them.”
Desire for attention on social media is another roadblock to a successful marriage, according to D’Ambrosio. He also cites diminishing privacy because of social media. “We’ve invited strangers into our homes and brought them on dates with us,” he wrote. “We’ve shown them our wardrobe, drove with them in our cars, and we even showed them our bathing suits. Might as well pack them a suitcase, too.”
D’Ambrosio wrote that he fears that “the world we live in today has put roadblocks in the way” of having a happy marriage. “Some things are in our control, and unfortunately, others are not.”
While there are certainly external and internal factors affecting every marriage, what is in millennials’ control might be part of the debate. For some, marriage appears to be an ironic confluence of perfect timing and circumstances dictated by self-sufficiency and an overpowering emotion or experience. As student Emily Crille said, “Marriage is about love. It’s not about planning or timing, and that’s what we’re all kind of waiting for.”
Meanwhile, CNN’s Carol Costello wonders, “Would a society without marriage be just as well off as one filled with ‘I dos’?” She doesn’t profess to know the answer, but even asking the question reveals the dramatic change in attitude toward marriage today.
About the author
Emily Macke serves as Theology of the Body Education Coordinator at Ruah Woods in Cincinnati, Ohio. She received her Master’s in Theological Studies at the John Paul II Institute in Washington, DC, and her undergraduate degree in Theology and Journalism at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Emily shares the good news of the Catholic faith through writing, media appearances and speaking opportunities, which she has done on three continents. She and her husband Brad live in southeast Indiana.