Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

America's On/off Relationship with Wedlock

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

America's On/off Relationship with Wedlock

Article excerpt

Love and marriage - as the old song from "Oklahoma!" suggests - still go together quite neatly in the United States.

Americans revere wedlock. Nearly 9 out of 10 of them will tie the knot sometime in their lives, more than the citizens of most other countries.

There's only one problem.

Americans seem more enamored with the institution than with each other. Although marriage looks likely to remain a predominant fixture of US society well into the 21st century, a still-high divorce rate and the lack of a practical or religious underpinning to many relationships threatens to undermine the wedding vows of today's young couples.

If today's Gen-Xers go through the same experience as their predecessors, then divorce rates won't drop and could even rise a little to a record 50 percent, according to a report released today by the US Census Bureau. Such an outcome would prove especially bitter for Gen-Xers, experts say, because they hold marriage in high regard.

"For many young people, they have this ideal of this lifelong egalitarian marriage," says Pamela Paul, author of a new book, "The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony." "Many of them had parents who were divorced growing up. [But] they kind of wrote off a lot of those divorces as belonging to a different era [and say] 'I won't make the same mistake.' "

In the view of some experts, America's newest newlyweds, for all their idealism about finding a soul-mate, often fall short on the glue that makes matchups last.

"There's a certain hollowness," says David Popenoe, a sociologist at Rutgers University and a founder of the National Marriage Project, a think tank looking into marriage trends. Young people "want marriage very much, but they're not willing to do what it requires to have a long-term marriage."

Whether Gen-Xers will do any better than their parents remains to be seen. In 1996 (the latest Census data available), two-thirds of 25- to 29-year-old women had gotten married but only 12 percent had been through a divorce. Using a mathematical model and assuming today's newly-married couples go through the same transitions as their predecessors, the Census projects half of their marriages could fall apart.

"Those figures are really ballpark," cautions Rose Kreider, a family demographer and co-author of the report. The larger point is that unless something changes for Gen-Xers, divorces could remain a common experience.

Anecdotally, the evidence isn't encouraging.

For her book, author Paul (herself a Gen-X divorcee) interviewed more than 60 individuals whose marriages ended while in their 20s. What she found was that her generation was seemingly more involved in planning a lavish wedding than a multi-decade partnership.

THAT'S pushed in part by a booming wedding industry, in part by popular culture, she says. …

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