Is Marriage Becoming Obsolete?

Hands with wedding ringsMarriage rates appear to be dropping significantly, causing some to question whether marriage as we all once knew it is going the way of the home phone and cassette tape. According to a recent article by Stephanie Coontz, a professor at The Evergreen State College in Washington state, marriage rates dropped by nearly 66% for women from 1950 to recent years. But those statistics, notes Coontz, provided by volumes of recent research, do not consider marriage through the ages… literally.

Coontz says that most researchers have focused on people under 30 to determine marriage rates. However, in the past decade, the average age of marriage has risen from the early 20s to the late 20s for both men and women. In fact, Coontz points out that studies suggest that nearly one in three women wait until they reach their 30s to marry. She also reminds readers that although the face of marriage has changed in the last half century, most people still hold marriage in high regard and do eventually marry.

Coontz and others recognize that marriage is not the be-all end-all for major life transitions. People no longer wait until they are married to purchase their first home, start a family, buy a business, or make major life leaps. Another trend bucking the historical record is cohabitation. Popular consensus among relationship experts and psychological minds was that cohabitation led to a higher chance of divorce. And yet new evidence points to a new protective factor provided by cohabitation. Rather than leading to divorce, cohabitation appears to act as a buffer from it.

Another interesting shift is that high-income-earning women are more likely to cohabitate, marry, and then have families, in that order, than lower-income-earning women. Overall, Coontz believes that the disestablishment of marriage is similar to that of religion that occurred after the American Revolution. People are no longer penalized or scorned if they do not conform to traditional marital roles. Instead, they are encouraged to pick and choose the marital arrangement that works best for them.

This process of personal selection can indeed affect the marriage rates, especially among younger people. “But it’s not that we’re doing a worse job at marriage than our ancestors did,” said Coontz. “It’s that we demand different things from marriage than in the past.”

Coontz, Stephanie. (2013). The disestablishment of marriage. The New York Times (n.d.): n. pag. Web.

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  • Haleigh


    July 1st, 2013 at 1:41 PM

    Marriage is not dead even though rates are falling.Experimenting new things is good.Its how we grow.But with so many studies showing how marriage can be a buffer against so many things including psychological it is not going extinct anytime soon!

  • evan w

    evan w

    July 2nd, 2013 at 4:32 AM

    Tell this to all the southern girls who go to college to get that perfect MRS. degree and I think that you will hear a resounding NO!

    In all seriousness, I do think that marriage is evolving and changing and is quite frankly very different than what it may have been for our parents. I don’t see that as a bad thing, it’s just different today. We are getting married later and having fewer kids, and I think that most of this is out of necessity. We have evolved to change given the times, and marriage has just been one more thing that has become swept up in that.

  • Felix


    July 2nd, 2013 at 2:17 PM

    Marriage is not become obsolete. Rather it is the people that want to try newer things. And anyway who says co-habitation is not marriage? How is it any different than on paper and tax benefits? It is marriage, any partnership between two adults in a romantic relationship is ‘MARRIAGE’!

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