Millennials and Marriage: Putting Off "I Do"

Young couple and guests toasting with champagne during wedding reception in domestic garden
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Millennials are marrying with less frequency and waiting longer to walk down the aisle. While parents of millennials may be looking forward to many years of enjoying their grandkids, the data shows marriage is less likely to happen for these young adults than in any previous generation. One third of millennial women report that they are not interested in having children at all, and if they are, they don't necessarily believe they have to be married to do so. Furthermore, most millennials don't see any stigma tied to forgoing having children all together.

In 2012, 47% of births to women in the Millennial generation were non-marital, compared with 21% among older women. - Pew Research Center

Millennials who marry are in the minority, with only 26% of them married (between the ages of 18 and 34). Those who do marry are waiting, on average, until they are 27. This is 22% less than their boomer parents at the same age a generation ago.

Why has marriage among millennials gone in such a drastically different direction from the generations before them, including Gen-Xers (36%)? There are a few reasons, each of them having a big impact on lifestyle choices.

Reasons millennials delay or forgo marriage

Student Loan Debt: Among those ages 18-29, nearly 25% are putting off marriage due to student loan debt. Often this debt means delaying other large purchases, such as cars and homes, giving millennials saddled with debt little incentive - or opportunity -  to settle down with someone and start a family.

Financial Independence: On the bright side, young women are able to support themselves financially now more than ever before, and don't feel the need to find a husband to be a breadwinner. This is a good thing since young men (ages 18-34) , when wages are adjusted for inflation, are earning 1/5 less than they were in 1980. 

Changes in Religious Habits: Fewer millennials are affiliated with a religion than any generation before them. One third of all millennials are not affiliated with any religious organization, and those who state they are "none of the above" in a Pew study are 23% - just 2% less than Evangelicals. Without religious constraints or restrictions, millennials are free to live as they choose, and many opt for cohabiting before marrying, which further delays the age of matrimony.

More LGBT Millennials: Whether it's because of a changing society or more self-awareness, 7% of millennials define themselves as LGBT, compared to 3.5% of the general population. While gay marriage has been legalized in many states, only 4-6% of LGBT men and women are married. LGBT millennials and young adults are a big reason for the decline in traditional marriage among their generation, as they find their own way to define relationships and families.

Millennial's Parents are Divorcing Later: While the divorce rate has declined since the 1980's, the rate of divorce among those 50 and over has more than doubled in the last 20 years. Millennials are witnessing the drastic lifestyle changes made by their parents at midlife and beyond, and this may have an effect on how they view marriage - as a lifelong commitment or a fluid situation that can change with time. 

Millennials, due to their financial constraints, lifestyles, sexuality and lack of religious affiliation have moved away from the need to be married in order to consider themselves happy and fulfilled. While their baby boomer parents may find this puzzling and reason for concern, it might be helpful for boomers to consider how different the world is today from when they were starting out as young adults. Society changes, and we must adapt to those changes or find ourselves left behind.