Generation after generation, we fall in love. But marriage, is another matter. Just as the generations run in cycles, so does the prevalence of marriage. The great constant is that we keep trying. The only constant is love.
SILENTS "I do."
The Silents were children and young adults during WWII. War causes marriage and birth rates to fall, and peace causes them to rise. True to form, Silents married in droves after the war. Most Silent men were married by age 23, women by 20 (that’s right, 20). And those young wives had lots of babies. 94% of the women born between 1931 and 1935 gave birth three times or more.
Being married was the norm. Being single or divorced was the exception. That is, until the 1960s, when a new generation came of age.
BOOMERS "I do. I don’t. I do again."
Enter the counterculture. Boomers pushed against the constraints of all institutions, including marriage. About half of all Boomers married before turning 30, but the era was steeped in questions. Was marriage necessary? Was love free? Not all Boomers adopted a sex, drugs and rock and roll lifestyle, but as a group Boomers valued personal fulfillment over tradition and duty. Marriage took a beating. The divorce rate soared during the 1960’s and 70’s, correlating perfectly with the first divorces at the leading edge of the Boomer gen.
In recent years, “gray divorce” among Boomers has gotten lots of media attention. But that is not the end of the story. In fact, Boomers who divorce tend to remarry. The newest trend among Boomer couples is LTA (living together apart) in which Boomers form committed romantic partnerships but don't live together or marry.
GEN X "I do. Just a little later, that's all."
When it came to marriage, Gen X waited. Maybe it was growing up in an era of skyrocketing divorce rates (they peaked in 1980). Maybe it was the independent latchkey kid thing, or more acceptance around being single, being gay or living with a partner. In any case, Gen X put off taking formal vows. Only 1/3 were married by age 30. But here’s the thing. Once they say “I do,” Gen X tends to stick. Fully 70% of Xers are married today. Most want to be married, and they stay married longer than Boomers did. Mostly due to Gen X, the divorce rate has been falling steadily for a couple of decades. Forget X-rated. More like X-trememly committed.
Millennials "I do . . . but differently."
With Millennials, we reach an apex in the generational cycle—a period when old institutions are being reshaped and taking on new forms. Millennials are marrying later (at nearly age 30) or not at all (one in three Millennials will still be unmarried at 40). They do, however, say they want to marry someday. In the meantime, they form committed romantic partnerships, and tend to buy houses together and even have kids together, before marriage.
Nearly half of this 20-something generation says traditional marriage may be obsolete. Pay attention to that word "traditional." Millennials reject traditional marriage. Not marriage. Not family. In fact, this generation is creating new traditions, new ways of being family. For one, they live in multi-generational households, and like it (we have not seen this since the 1950s). They expect multiple generations to stay close and take care of each other.
Millennials tend to live together before marrying. Some even send moving-in announcements (an emerging tradition). This is not done lightly. 36% of live-in couples announce plans to marry when the move in, and 70% of cohabiting Millennials say they are very likely to marry.
Then there's parenting. Millennials place a high premium on parenthood. Only 30% of Ms say marriage is one of the most important things in life, but more than half say "being a good parent" is. Millennials will form families and had children, just without vows and rice--at least for now.
As Millennials grow older, and as the next gen (GenEdge) enters young adulthood, look for a rebirth of some sort of traditional family life. This is a generational cycle we have seen before—periods when family life is threatened followed by periods when families grow strong again.
When it comes to generations, change is constant. Fortunately for all of us, so is love.
Author, reseracher and keynote speaker, Amy Lynch works with companies that want to harness the power of Generational Intelligence.