Forget `til death do us part' -- unions will last only until the seven-year itch needs scratching. Experts predict people will marry four times in a lifetime without social stigma.
One hundred years from now, Americans will marry at least four times and have extramarital affairs with no public censure, says futurist Sandy Burchsted. Marriage will be viewed as a "conscious, evolutionary process."
Burchsted, who runs Prospectiva in Houston and is writing a book about marriage in the year 2100, sees denizens of the next century moving through at least four kinds of marriages. The first union will be "the icebreaker marriage," in which couples learn how to live together and become sexually experienced. Icebreaker marriages are likely to last no more than five years and be somewhat "cut and dried," says Burchsted. Once disillusionment sets in, couples will divorce without stigma.
The second marriage, known as "the parenting marriage," will last between 15 and 20 years. These couples will view raising children as their primary purpose, although child-rearing in the future will be in communal settings, not nuclear families. After the second marriage ends, couples may enter a third union, called a "self-marriage," in which they seek self-discovery and self-actualization. "We see marriage as a conscious, evolutionary process," says Burchsted, "so this marriage will be about consciously evolving yourself."
Finally, because people will be living until age 120, many couples will reach for a late-in-life "soulmate connection." In this fourth kind of marriage, couples will discover marital bliss, spirituality and equal partnership, says Burchsted, who bases her predictions on trends showing women becoming more financially independent, marriage and childbearing becoming delinked, "serial monogamy" becoming more acceptable and extramarital sexual affairs occurring more frequently and with less public outcry.
Researchers at the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University agree that the institution of marriage in America is weakening. Americans are "marrying later, exiting marriage more quickly and choosing to live together before marriage, after marriage, in-between marriage and as an alternative to marriage," write David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead in their study, The State of the Union 1999: The Social Health of Marriage in America. While they believe that the desire of teens for a long-term marriage is higher than ever, they have found that girls have become "more pessimistic" about achieving such a union, and both boys and girls have become more accepting of unwed parenthood and other alternatives.
Such trends bode ill for marriage, say Popenoe and Whitehead, who nevertheless find hope in a grassroots marriage movement, including marriage-education classes in schools and communities and increasing acceptance of hard-to-dissolve "covenant" marriages. Many Americans will respond to the weakening of marriage with renewed dedication and success in achieving the goal of a long-lasting happy marriage, predict Popenoe and Whitehead.
Other marriage-watchers agree. There is a "bedrock point" beneath which humans will not go in reordering their relationships, says noted social analyst Francis Fukuyama, who spoke at a recent forum sponsored by the new Beverly LaHaye Institute, named for the founder of Concerned Women for America, in Washington. But due to the "technological and economic conditions of our age," it is extremely unlikely that people will readopt Victorian values and attitudes.
Fukuyama, author of The Great Disruption: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order, cites the introduction of the birth-control pill and the increase in working women as key forces behind the family breakdown that began in the United States in the mid-1960s. Neither of these watershed events is likely to be reversed, he says. However, evidence is growing that the "great disruption" has run its course and a process of "renorming" has begun. …