There’s a reason you aren’t officiating as many marriages as you used to. Millennials are either waiting longer to get married, or are not getting married at all, leading to the lowest marriage rates in recorded U.S. history.
According to research presented in a recent Bloomberg article, culled from the most recent census data, the U.S. is mirroring a declining marriage trend similar to other modernized Western countries, although the U.S.’s rate is still higher.
“The U.S. marriage rate—the number of new marriages per 1,000 people—has been falling for decades,” the Bloomberg article reports. “It fell especially fast during the recession, in 2008 and 2009, but there’s little evidence that people started getting married again even as the economy recovered. And research firm IbisWorld predicts the marriage rate will keep falling over the next five years.”
As the social acceptability of living together and having children outside of marriage increases, more young couples find themselves postponing marriage or no longer seeing a need for it. It’s not that people do not want to be in lifelong, committed relationships, but that they see cohabitation as an important step in forming those relationships. Research shows, however, that cohabitation decreases the likelihood of a successful lifelong partnership.
A vitally important 2002 study by The National Marriage Project found that:
“social science evidence suggests that living together is not a good way to prepare for marriage or to avoid divorce. What’s more, it shows that the rise in cohabitation is not a positive family trend. Cohabiting unions tend to weaken the institution of marriage and pose special risks for women and children. Specifically, the research indicates that:
Living together before marriage increases the risk of breaking up after marriage.
Living together outside of marriage increases the risk of domestic violence for
women, and the risk of physical and sexual abuse for children.
Unmarried couples have lower levels of happiness and well-being than married
As more and more teenagers believe cohabiting is a responsible step toward lifelong relationships, the research incontrovertibly shows it’s not working. In a New York Times editorial, clinical psychologist Meg Jay explained part of the reason why:
“I’ve had other clients who also wish they hadn’t sunk years of their 20s into relationships that would have lasted only months had they not been living together. Others want to feel committed to their partners, yet they are confused about whether they have consciously chosen their mates. Founding relationships on convenience or ambiguity can interfere with the process of claiming the people we love. A life built on top of ‘maybe you’ll do’ simply may not feel as dedicated as a life built on top of the ‘we do’ of commitment or marriage.”
What this means is that more couples will cohabitate, leading to less stable partnerships, increased likelihood of domestic abuse, more divorce for those who are married and lower levels of happiness for everyone involved. It’s easy to read this as a church leader and be discouraged, but there’s a hopeful side to this research.
Most people eventually want to land in a lifelong committed relationship where they build a family. In other words, they want the very thing God says a sexual relationship between a man and woman is made for, they are just going about it the wrong way. What we can preach then—both to Christians and those exploring faith—is that research has proven God’s way is, in fact, the best way. His expectation of sex only existing in a monogamous, lifelong pledge between two people is not some archaic, repressive relic of a bygone era, it’s God’s guideline to us on how to find the romantic, committed love we’re looking for.