Sex and Relationships

Modern Marriage: For Better or For Worse?

Balancing Traditional Values in a Nontraditional Age 

By: Veronica Pistek

Upholding traditional values in modern marriage has become more demanding than ever. Credit: Jasmine Wallace

With the weight bearing down to find a career and become financially stable all before you hit your mid-twenties, late marriages have become the new trend amongst the current adults in America.

 Millennials are often tying the knot a decade or more after high school so that they can focus on other priorities such as establishing friendships and focusing on their career. Especially for American women, a dramatic delay in marriage compared with previous generations has occurred. 

The median age at first marriage was about 22 years old from 1880 to 1940. From 1960 to 2000, the age for marriage increased sharply, by more than one year per decade to 25.5 years in 2000 (Rosenfeld 63). 

Possibly, this delay can be attributed to the rise of birth control and the ability of women to have power over their fertility, closing of the gender wage gap, and dramatic changes to the priorities of women once being a homemaker, and now an equal in the workplace (Stevenson et al. 2007). 

In order to further understand why marriage has become less of a priority to the recent generations, it is important to trace the steps of the past. 

As expressed by a professor of psychology at Northwestern University, “In the era of the institutional marriage, from the nation’s founding until around 1850, the prevalence of individual farming households meant that the main requirements Americans had for their marriage revolved around things like food production, shelter and protection from violence,” (Finkel 2014).

 So, marriage used to serve as a survival purpose: if you have a spouse that can produce offspring, you can increase the number of family members and thus the ability to survive. Not until the twentieth century in America did love and emotional needs become the focus for couples seeking commitment. This companionate marriage was a result of the shift from rural to an urban lifestyle. 

This transition meant that as life became more fast paced and luxurious due to technological advancements, Americans no longer worried about survival and focused on intimacy and companionship. 

Now, in the modern twenty-first century, we have been existing in an age of self-expressive marriages. Americans are not longing for a lifelong commitment with a partner to love, rather they tend to turn to marriage as an opportunity for personal growth. 

Often, media such as movies, television, news articles, and social media have displayed the idea of being with a person so they can help you become a better version of yourself. 

However, if someone is with a companion in order to explore their personal complexity and achieve self-fulfillment, the odds are that they could end up neglecting their partner’s needs to satisfy their own. 

In addition, most people in life besides a spouse—a family member, a friend, or even a stranger can help one on their path to self-discovery. So, if contemporary couples are prioritizing their friends, jobs, the gym, and technology over their need to get married, the significance of a marital bond potentially will weaken. 

Ultimately, by focusing on one’s personal hierarchy of needs and less about a partner, marriages are bound to steer in the direction of independence, especially with the contribution of social media and instant communication. 

Despite the shift from love-based marriages to self-fulfillment marriages due to the impact of technology, modern couples’ expectations often reflect the traditional ideals of companionship. 

This ultimately calls for a strong effort needed from modern spouses to have a successful marriage under the modern challenge of independence. According to a set of articles in the journal Psychology Inquiry, “Americans today have elevated their expectations of marriage and can in fact achieve an unprecedentedly high level of marital quality — but only if they are able to invest a great deal of time and energy in their partnership,” (Finkel 2014). 

While I do agree that if there is a great deal of devotion in a modern marriage that it will succeed, I also believe that if the couple is not able to devote enough energy to one another, the marriage will fall short of the couple’s expectations. In other words, marriage has potentially become an all or nothing institution. 

For instance, those couples who spend time alone with each other engaging in conversation and activity a few times a week, rather than in silence scrolling through social media, are more likely to feel happy in their marriage. 

On the other hand, the couples that are distant and constantly comparing their own marriages to online relationships often results in the couple wishing that their relationship was stronger, instead of taking strides to enhance their connection. 

Specifically, due to the nationwide acceptance of no-fault divorce, marriage today lacks security and permanence. Consequently, most Americans mistake the hope that marriage will last forever with the belief that it necessarily will.

 So, the upheld ideal that marriage means “till death do us part” strengthens how modern marriages try to uphold traditional values, yet fail to realize that achieving those results in our modern world has become more demanding. 



Harvard University Press

Journal of Economic Perspectives


Categories: Sex and Relationships

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