Generational Wedlock: Are Younger Americans Souring on Marriage?

Suzannah Kolbeck's Photo
By Suzannah Kolbeck Updated July 18, 2023


photo of toy figures of a bride and groom walking on the road, surrounded by piles of coins to convey debt being a dealbreaker marriage decline

If your social media feeds and friend circles are to be believed, both young and middle-aged adults are enjoying a carefree, yet event-filled life of singlehood. From posts that highlight the joys of filling your life with plants and cats instead of spouses to websites selling solo vacations, it seems like more people are putting off marriage as a threshold into adulthood.

And for the most part, this is true. Clever Real Estate recently conducted a study on the state of marriage, and the results indicate that a significant portion of Americans are souring on marriage: 1 in 4 Americans (25%) think marriage is an outdated concept.

Generational Shifts in Marriage

Perhaps unsurprisingly, boomers are more likely to be married or believe in the benefits of marriage than any other generation. There are several reasons why this might have occurred.

Priorities Have Changed

One major generational shift relates to not only why people get married but also why they stay single. In the U.S., priorities have shifted in the younger generations that prioritize mental health (49%), physical health (44%), personal growth (31%), and even remaining debt-free (25%) over marriage.

But boomers lead the generational charge when it comes to prioritizing marriage above everything else. They are 75% more likely than Gen X, 168% more likely than millennials, and 394% more likely than Gen Z to place the importance of marriage above everything else. Contrast this boomer belief in the sanctity of marriage with their high divorce rate and it starts to become apparent why younger generations may be leery about entering into the marriage contract.

Marriage Does Not Equal Happiness

When the bloom is off the rose and the work of building a life together begins, newlyweds may be in for a big surprise: marriage does not automatically make you happier. Approximately 14% of couples are unhappy in their marriage. And although 11% of people admit to not liking their spouse and 19% label their marriage "loveless," 38% of married people feel obligated to stay together.

The Path to Marriage is Littered with Deal Breakers

For some people, relationships are headed in the marital direction until certain deal breakers pop up. Women more than men (65% more) require their families to approve of their partner before they get married, but that’s not the only deal breaker separated by gender.

Other deal breakers include:

  • Rudeness to service workers: 53% more women than men

  • Different views on pets: 50% more women than men

  • Friends’ opinions: 39% more women than men

Too much debt is a big reason why couples postpone marriage or end their relationship altogether. Twenty-eight percent of people surveyed would postpone marriage with someone carrying too much debt, and another 65% would not consider marrying a person with excessive debt.

These deal breakers vary across generations, too. Gen Z values partners who are kind to service workers and meet with their friends’ approval. Boomers seem less concerned with any of the above deal breakers.

Why People Continue to Tie the Knot

These days, those who choose to get married are not only jumping the broom to prove their commitment to themselves and future generations. One in five people said they would marry solely for financial benefit, such as combining financial forces to buy a home in a tight real estate market. Another 7% married for insurance purposes.

Of course, people have a variety of motivations for marriage. Other reasons cited for a marriage ceremony include:

  • To demonstrate commitment: 73%

  • To have kids: 29%

  • To fulfill a societal obligation: 13%

When it comes to marrying for religious reasons, the data skews away from expected generational trends. Millennials are surprisingly motivated to marry for religious obligations — 16% cite this as a primary reason for marriage. That’s double the number of Gen X and 2% more than boomers. This change may reflect an overall secular change in attitudes in the U.S., but it may also reflect a reduced feeling of obligation when it comes to religious norms that "require" marriage before children.

Trouble for the Wedding Industry

A pause in elaborate wedding ceremonies in the COVID era was followed by a rush of weddings in 2022 and 2023, but the wedding industrial complex is still headed for a downturn. Declining marriage rates mean less income for wedding-related businesses, but that’s not the only threat on the horizon. Couples who are choosing to marry are opting for pared-down ceremonies and even eloping to avoid the average wedding cost ($30,000 as of this writing). Some are cutting matrimonial costs and shifting wedding funds to large purchases (such as a new car or home).

Thoughts on Divorce

Even with their high divorce rates, boomers believe that divorce is too easy – boomers are 38% more likely than millennials to believe it's too easy to get divorced. The most common reasons cited for divorce are infidelity (37%), too many arguments (32%), falling out of love (27%), and abuse (25%). Younger generations tend to feel less obligated to stay married and may be more likely to leave situations that are dangerous or simply no longer working.

The Future of Marriage

With more Americans delaying marriage, a downward trend will continue in the years to come. Some couples are delaying marriage long enough to build stable finances and good credit scores that help them shift from renting to owning. Others are choosing to marry but shrugging off big receptions in favor of saving money

It’s also not clear what impact legalization of same-sex marriage will have on younger generations, but one thing shines through Clever’s study: more people are shrugging off the knee-jerk marital obligation in favor of taking a more thoughtful, considered approach to this commitment.

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