Change is very much a factor in modern society. Many of those changes have undermined the traditional family. The results are all around us. Children are more emotionally isolated from parents. Social media has replaced the extended family. Broken homes seem to outnumber those that are intact.
Once in a while, though, there is a new trend that does not fit in with what “everybody” knows. That is the case with millennials and marriage.
The Declining Rate of Divorce
According to a study by sociology professor Philip Cohen of the University of Maryland, the U.S. divorce rate has dropped by eighteen percent between 2008 and 2016. That is a major development, made even more significant by the fact that “gray divorce” by those over fifty years of age is becoming more common. If the older generation is divorcing more frequently, the drop in the divorce among the young must be even larger than it initially appears to be.
Thus, millennials are more likely to remain married than their parents and even their grandparents.
That flies in the face of many of the causes of divorce hypothesized by the experts over the years. “Everybody” knows that the children of divorced parents are more likely themselves to get divorced. Divorce rates go up as society becomes more affluent. Young people with more choices are less likely to embrace monogamy.
Millennials are not Turning to Traditional Marriage
At first blush, this is good news—very good news. The possibility a bad effect of the Sexual Revolution is in decline would be a cause to rejoice. However, a deeper look reveals a great cause for concern.
A big reason why there are fewer divorces is that fewer are getting married. According to a 2014 Pew Institute study, the share of Americans who never marry went from about one-in-ten adults in 1960 to about one-in-five in 2012. About a quarter of those who never married were cohabiting.
Those who are marrying are waiting longer. The same Pew Institute study found that the median age at first marriage was 27 for women and 29 for men in 2012. In 1960, those median ages were 20 and 23 respectively.
People are also less likely to consider marriage as a major goal in their lives. The most frequently given reason for marrying later is the desire to launch a career before marriage. It has also become common to buy and live in a house before the wedding. The recent popularity of “destination weddings,” where the whole wedding party flies off to some Caribbean island, indicates that the outward show and the ability to host a lavish reception can be more important than the commitment of marriage.
Some have deliberately abandoned any idea of marriage. The Pew Institute found that thirty-two percent of never-married adults were unsure about getting married. Thirteen percent were sure about never marrying.
People are less likely to connect childbearing with marriage. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) stated that slightly over forty percent of births in 2015 were to unmarried mothers. How many of these women wanted to marry or did eventually marry their children’s fathers is unknown. However, many of these women did not see marriage as a decisive factor in their decisions to have relationships that could result in having children.
Unfortunately, this decline in the divorce rate does not mean that a younger generation is turning in a more traditional direction.
Reasons for Hope
However, there is room for hope. First, the millennials are not interested in emulating the marriage patterns of their parents. Many of those raised in the divorce culture are rejecting it. Even if they are choosing other alternatives, they are at least asking the right questions. No longer is divorce seen as a kind of liberation, as it was in the seventies and eighties.
This represents an opening for those who promote the family. Many millennials have never seen the joy that comes from a faithful and fruitful marriage. Their model is the empty marriages of their parents which ended in divorce. Human beings have an innate desire for marriage as ordained by God in the Garden of Eden. Cohabitation will not fill that desire.
Traditional marriage offers the fulfillment for which they search. The media will continue to do all that it can do to glorify fornication and the various “lifestyles” popularized by the Sexual Revolution. Many have been deceived in this way. However, their own lives are telling them that it is a lie, but all too many of them have no idea where to search for truth. In fact, the culture of relativism has taught them to doubt that there is any truth at all.
Those who know and understand the value of marriage as God designed it need to raise their banners high and show these young people that there is an answer. That answer does not lie in the direction in which they are looking. Pray that the Holy Spirit will turn their heads just far enough to give them a chance to see that traditional marriage is a way—indeed the only way—to find the fulfillment they seek.