Marriage in the 21st Century
It takes two to marry but only one to end the marriage. The institution of marriage is being influenced by many fundamental shifts in society. While two decades ago, there could be a somewhat same universal definition, meaning and importance of marriage, the same cannot be said today about marriage.
Economist reports that one of the profound changes is that people are getting married later than ever. In the richest parts in Asia — Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong — the mean age of wedlock is now 29-30 for women, 31-33 for men. The mean age of marriage has risen by five years in some East Asian countries in three decades, which has surpassed the mean age of marriage in the western world (societies known for liberal attitude towards marriage).
Another significant change is that many people are not getting married at all. In 2010, a third of Japanese women entering their 30s were single. Perhaps half or more of those will never marry. More women are retreating from marriage as they go into the workplace.
Divorce rates are also rising in all geographies with most of the western world having figures of around 50 percent. Dr. Tammy Nelson, the author of The New Monogamy predicts that marriages in the future will be defined by shorter, more renewable contracts, in five year increments, or smaller two year contracts with options to renew. Such agreements shall, at the end of their term, be renewed or ended, depending on how the requirements and expectations of the contract are being fulfilled. Even live-in couples are waiting till later than ever before to marry, with many freezing their eggs, hoping to put off child bearing. This trend will continue, with fertility treatment moving into egg donorship and surrogate parenting with less IVF and hormone treatment.
Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert says, “Marriage made sense when the world was inefficient. You married a person nearby who could provide most of your important needs while hoping your lesser needs could also somehow be met. It made perfect sense in the pre-Internet age.”
Marriage is one of the most universal practice/institution, across nations; the act, rights and participants may vary, who they marry may be influenced by socially determined rules, prescriptive marriage rules, parental choice and individual desire but marriage exists in all societies in some form or the other.
Research on marriage and health is part of the broader study of the benefits of social relationships. Social ties provide people with a sense of identity, purpose, belonging and support. Marriage, like other close relationships, exerts considerable influence on health too.
We believe that marriage is the foundational building block of society. Of course, in many societies, marriage sets gender inequality in multiple ways and in many, it is not a contract between two people but two kinships at the least. Yet, research seems to stress that married people live better lives than those who are not married – they are healthier, happier, live longer, and are more financially prosperous and stable.
A growing number of economists and social researchers are concluding that getting and staying married is a key to economic prosperity of the individual as well as nation states.
An international report focusing on the role of marriage in sustaining long-term economic growth, the viability of the welfare state, the size and quality of the workforce, and the profitability of large sectors of the modern economy reveals:
- Men who get and stay married work harder, work smarter, and earn more money than their unmarried peers.
- Nations wishing to enjoy robust long-term economic growth and viable welfare states must maintain sustainable fertility rates of at least two children per woman.
- Key sectors of the modern economy—from household products to insurance to groceries—are more likely to profit when men and women marry and have children.
Marriage also affects parenting and influences income and education of children in future. Children raised in intact, married families are more likely to acquire the human and social capital they need to become well-adjusted, productive workers. A profound advantage in income and nurturing time for married couples makes their children statistically more likely to finish college, find good jobs and form stable marriages themselves.
Just as there is a world of difference in how marriage is defined, so are the possibilities on how they are expected to work in future. What we need is new definition of marriage and role of the married individuals in marriage but the institution remains important in ensuring health, income and prosperity of both individuals and the nations.
The ‘post marriage’ society is difficult to imagine as yet and we should stick to marriage as a key social and personal institution.
Gazing through the crystal ball
- Far more work need to be done by men and women to keep up their marriage now.
- Being married will be a totally different experience for people in most societies as compared to their parents. Marriage issues need extensive discussions along many more dimensions and an open communication channel on marriage between parents and children is an imperative.
- The legal debate over various aspects around marriage is going to witness a lot of action. Many more dimensions of marriage are now open to negotiation e.g. distribution of wealth in case of divorce, division of responsibility for taking care of the parents, contribution towards purchasing joint assets, investment in holidays.
- Men’s lives in marriage will change more than those of women. Fathers are also equally likely to be given custody of children in case of divorce.
- Parenting will be longer and more demanding; parents will have to consciously play role modeling in all aspects of personal and professional lives.
- Value system of children will be more cosmopolitan and that would not be easy on parents.
- The stability of marriage cannot be taken for granted and all decisions regarding professional life must be taken jointly (‘compromises in careers’ would be more routine).