In today’s world, it is becoming the norm for people to marry late — most of the time after college, and perhaps, even after graduate school. Or in some cases, people don’t even marry at all. A sociologist at the University of Maryland has predicted that if current rates (26 percent between ages 18 to 32) continue, in less than just thirty years the concept of marriage will not exist. Moreover, divorce rates are increasing steadily. Almost 50 percent of marriages now end in divorce and as a result, some could argue that marriage is also losing its value. In this day and age, we should realize that there are alternatives to marriage.
Why then, does society still put such an emphasis on getting married and treat it as an institution? It has been held in high regard in most cultures and considered an essential element in the fabric of society for too long. Recent research is showing that nowadays, marriage offers no psychological benefit over cohabitation or being single in the realm of social ties. It is possible that marriage could be a great source of happiness and well-being for some, but for others, the personal growth and flexibility associated with cohabitation make it a superior option, particularly for today’s generation. Some of the empowered of our generation even relish the more autonomous lifestyle of remaining single. There are certainly many alternatives to marriage.
A key area to consider as Wellesley students is: do women benefit from a traditional marriage? Despite the great progress made by feminists, women are still not on par with men in the workplace and do not share the same set of responsibilities in the household. This means that for a woman in the 21st century, it is possible that marriage could be viewed as quite a hindrance. Wellesley students know that the struggles of juggling both a career and a household are an unfortunate reality (Revolution Studio’s Mona Lisa Smile was a movie made specifically to depict this rigid dichotomy at Wellesley.) In many cases (even nowadays,) a man can completely devote his time to his career. If a woman continues to pursue her career after marriage, despite also being a breadwinner, she is likely to also have to take on the job of housewife, raising children and managing the house. This duality is a major source of stress, and could lead to lower levels of well-being for a woman. Without marriage, this situation may be less prominent without the weight of obligation.
Another vital issue to consider with regards to marriage is children. In the past, marriage was considered a necessary stable environment to raise a child. However, this trend is becoming less true in the modern day. More than half of all millennial children are now born out of wedlock. We should note that children raised in such an environment are more prone to facing greater negative ramifications, such as higher levels of poverty. Some supporters of marriage could argue that this statistic suggests that there should be greater encouragement for such couples to get married. But forcing marriage is not the way to solve this since half of marriages end in divorce as it is. And the stress of divorce is equally bad for children. We should be embracing this statistic, not crushing it, by making it easier for a single parent (or alternative forms of raising a child) to raise a child on their own. The norms of society have changed, and marriage and raising a child are no longer “one size fits all.” This could mean reducing social stigma against a single parent or dissolving legal regulations.
It is high time that we stop glorifying and institutionalizing marriage. By doing so, we thereby render all other forms of family formation lesser. There are other living situations, partnerships and upbringing styles each suited for different types of people. There are alternatives to marriage.