2017-12-07 17:51



  Modern Marriage in American

  The wedding of the 20th century, in 1981, celebrated a marriage that turned out to be a hugebust. It ended as badly as a relationship can: scandal, divorce and, ultimately, death andworldwide weeping.

  So when the firstborn son of that union, Britain'sPrince William, set in motion the wedding of this century by getting engaged to CatherineMiddleton, he did things a little differently. He picked someone older than he is (by six months), who went to the same university he did and whom he'd dated for a long time. Although she isnot of royal blood, she stands to become the first English Queen with a university degree, so inone fundamental way, theirs is a union of equals. In that regard, the new couple reflect thechanges in the shape and nature of marriage that have been rippling throughout the Westernworld for the past few decades.

  In fact, statistically speaking, a young man of William's age — if not his royal English heritage— might be just as likely not to get married, yet. In 1960, the year before Princess Diana, William's mother, was born, nearly 70% of American adults were married; now only about halfare. Eight times as many children are born out of wedlock. Back then, two-thirds of 20-somethings were married; in 2008 just 26% were. And college graduates are now far morelikely to marry (64%) than those with no higher education (48%).

  When an institution so central to human experience suddenly changes shape in the space of ageneration or two, it's worth trying to figure out why. This fall the Pew Research Center, inassociation with TIME, conducted a nationwide poll exploring the contours of modernmarriage and the new American family, posing questions about what people want and expectout of marriage and family life, why they enter into committed relationships and what theygain from them. What we found is that marriage, whatever its social, spiritual or symbolicappeal, is in purely practical terms just not as necessary as it used to be. Neither men norwomen need to be married to have sex or companionship or professional success or respector even children — yet marriage remains revered and desired.

  And of all the transformations our family structures have undergone in the past 50 years, perhaps the most profound is the marriage differential that has opened between the rich andthe poor. In 1960 the median household income of married adults was 12% higher than that ofsingle adults, after adjusting for household size. By 2008 this gap had grown to 41%. In otherwords, the richer and more educated you are, the more likely you are to marry, or to bemarried — or, conversely, if you're married, you're more likely to be well off.

  The question of why the wealth disparity between the married and the unmarried has grownso much is related to other, broader issues about marriage: whom it best serves, how itrelates to parenting and family life and how its voluntary nature changes social structures.

  The Marrying Kind

  In 1978, when the divorce rate was much higher than it is today, a TIME poll asked Americansif they thought marriage was becoming obsolete. Twenty-eight percent did.

  Since then, we've watched that famous royal marriage and the arrival of Divorce Court. We'vetuned in to Family Ties (nuclear family with three kids) and Modern Family (nuclear family withthree kids, plus gay uncles with an adopted Vietnamese baby and a grandfather with aColombian second wife and dorky stepchild). We've spent time with Will and Grace, whobickered like spouses but weren't, and with the stars of Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica, whowere spouses, bickered and then weren't anymore. We've seen some political marriagessurvive unexpectedly (Bill and Hillary Clinton) and others unpredictably falter (Al and TipperGore).

  See pictures from the marriage of Al and Tipper Gore.

  See the top 10 TV dads.

  We've seen the rise of a $40 billion-plus wedding industry, flames fanned by dating sites, andreality shows playing the soul-mate game — alongside the rise of the prenup, the postnup and, most recently, divorce insurance. We care about marriage so much that one of the fiercestpolitical and legal fights in years is being waged over whom the state permits to get married. We've seen a former head of state's child (Chelsea Clinton) marry after living with her boyfriendand a potential head of state's child (Bristol Palin) have a child before leaving home.

  So, as we circle back around to witness another royal engagement, where are we on themarriage question? Less wedded to it. The Pew survey reveals that nearly 40% of us thinkmarriage is obsolete. This doesn't mean, though, that we're pessimistic about the future ofthe American family; we have more faith in the family than we do in the nation's educationsystem or its economy. We're just more flexible about how family gets defined.

  Even more surprising: overwhelmingly, Americans still venerate marriage enough to want totry it. About 70% of us have been married at least once, according to the 2010 Census. ThePew poll found that although 44% of Americans under 30 believe marriage is heading forextinction, only 5% of those in that age group do not want to get married. Sociologists notethat Americans have a rate of marriage — and of remarriage — among the highest in theWestern world. (In between is a divorce rate higher than that of most countries in the EuropeanUnion.) We spill copious amounts of ink and spend copious amounts of money being anxiousabout marriage, both collectively and individually. We view the state of our families as asymbol of the state of our nation, and we treat marriage as a personal project, something wework at and try to perfect. "Getting married is a way to show family and friends that you have asuccessful personal life," says Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University and theauthor of The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today. "It'slike the ultimate merit badge."

  But if marriage is no longer obligatory or even — in certain cases — helpful, then what is itfor? It's impossible to address that question without first answering another: Who is marriagefor?

  The New Marriage Gap

  To begin to answer that question, it might be useful to take a look at the brief but illustrativemarriage of golfer Greg Norman and tennis star Chris Evert, who married in June 2008 anddivorced 15 months later. From all reports, their union had many of the classic hallmarks ofmodern partnerships. The bride and groom had roughly equal success in their careers. Beingwealthy, sporty and blond, they had similar interests. She was older than he, and they'd hadother relationships before. (She'd had two previous spouses and he one.) Plus, they'd knowneach other a while, since Evert's newly minted ex-husband, Andy Mill, was Norman's bestfriend.

  Apart from the interest the union generated in the tabloids, this is typical of the way manymarriages start. Modern brides and grooms tend to be older and more similar. In particular, Americans are increasingly marrying people who are on the same socioeconomic andeducational level. Fifty years ago, doctors commonly proposed to nurses and businessmen totheir secretaries. Even 25 years ago, a professional golfer might marry, say, a flightattendant. Now doctors tend to cleave unto other doctors, and executives hope to be part ofa power couple.

  The change is mostly a numbers game. Since more women than men have graduated fromcollege for several decades, it's more likely than it used to be that a male college graduate willmeet, fall in love with, wed and share the salary of a woman with a degree. Women's advancesin education have roughly paralleled the growth of the knowledge economy, so the slice of thefamily bacon she brings home will be substantial.

  Women's rising earning power doesn't affect simply who cooks that bacon, although thereapportioning of household labor is a significant issue and means married people need deftnegotiation skills. Well-off women don't need to stay in a marriage that doesn't make themhappy; two-thirds of all divorces, it's estimated, are initiated by wives. And not just the SandraBullock types who have been treated shabbily and have many other fish on their line but alsoTipper Gore types whose kids have left home and who don't necessarily expect to remarry butare putting on their walking boots anyway.


  46. The 1978 TIME poll revealed that 28% thought of marriage as obsolete.

  47. The example of the marriage of golfer Greg Norman with tennis star Chris Evert indicatesequal success in career is no guarantee of successful marriage.

  48. Though people still revered, neither men nor women see it as prerequisite of sex, companionship, professional success, respect or children.

  49. The more money you have, the more education you have received,the more likely you areto marry or to be married.

  50. Two thirds of all divorces were estimated to have been initiated by female because well-offwomen don't have to stay in wedlock if they didn't feel happy.

  51. The engagement of Britain,s prince William with Catherine Middleton was different in thattheirs is a union of equals though she is not of royal blood.

  52. Prince William's mother was Princess Dianna.

  53. In 1960 two thirds of 20-somethings was married.

  54. The joint research by Pew Research center and TIME aimed at modem American marriageand family.

  55. The wealth disparity between the married and unmarried is related to whom marriageseines.

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