Today's young Americans dream about walking down the aisle â€” and they have very high expectations of who'll be awaiting them at the other end. Ninety-four percent of single twentysomethings agree that when they marry, they want their spouse to be their â€œsoul mate, first and foremost,â€? and 87 percent expect to find that special someone, according to a study by The National Marriage Project at Rutgers University.
The study, a nationwide telephone survey of 1,003 respondents between the ages of 20 and 29, was conducted by the Gallup Organization between January 2001 and March 2001, and was released in June, along with the Project's annual report, â€œThe State of Our Unions.â€? The Project's co-directors, David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, commissioned the poll to gain a better understanding of young Americans' expectations of marriage. â€œWe felt that there was a lack of information about the mating and dating [rituals] of young adults in their 20s,â€? explains Popenoe. â€œWe wanted to look at this new life stage of twentysomething single adulthood.â€?
Forget about the ambitions of the marry-a-millionaire set. The study reveals a generation of dreamy-eyed Americans. Young women today profess to have a lofty view of marital bliss: 81 percent say it is more important for them to have a husband who can communicate about his deepest feelings than one who makes a good living. (The same question was not asked of male survey participants.)
Yet in other ways, young women's views of marriage are quite pragmatic. Today, with women earning college degrees, making their own money, acquiring debt and creating investment portfolios prior to purchasing their wedding gowns, they no longer view marriage as a means to economic independence from their families. The days of the dowry are long gone. Both young men and women equally and overwhelmingly â€” 86 percent â€” agree that it's extremely important to be economically secure on one's own before getting married.
Young Americans are also realistic about the durability of marriage. Over half of the respondents say one of their biggest concerns about getting married is the possibility of divorce. Eighty-eight percent think the divorce rate in America is too high. But ironically, given their own utopian aspirations for marital bliss, 86 percent say that the high divorce rate is a result of couples focussing too much on their expectations for happiness and too little on the hard work it takes to maintain a relationship. Yet women are much more likely than men to strongly agree that marriage is, in fact, hard work (72 percent versus 56 percent).
Anxious to avoid the possibility of their own marital rupture, 44 percent of respondents say they have lived with a partner at some time in their lives. This is in line with the majority belief (62 percent) that cohabitation before marriage is a good way to avoid divorce. Forty-three percent go a step further and say they will only marry someone after they have lived together.
Despite their distaste for divorce, young adults seem ambivalent about official measures to counteract it. While 47 percent think laws need to be changed to make divorce more difficult to obtain, most seem to agree with Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura that overall, the government should keep its nose out of marital affairs. Although Minnesota recently joined several other states in discounting the cost of obtaining a marriage license for couples who take premarital education classes (despite Ventura's objections), 45 percent of those surveyed say the state shouldn't be involved in licensing marriage to begin with. And while repeal of the so-called â€œmarriage penaltyâ€? tax swiftly passed through this year's Congress, a significant portion (43 percent) of twentysomethings believe married couples should not be more privileged than cohabiting couples in receiving governmental benefits.
In fact, 8 in 10 of today's young adults say marriage is nobody's business but that of the two people involved. Whoever's business it is, today's twentysomethings are clearly taken with â€” and take seriously â€” the business of matrimony: on their own terms.
First There's Sex, Then There's Marriageâ€¦
Women agree with men that casual sex is common, though fewer say they participate in it themselves.
|PERCENT WHO AGREE THAT:||MEN||WOMEN|
|It's common these days for people my age to have sex just for fun, and not expect any commitment beyond the sexual encounter itself.||79%||77%|
|There are people I would have sex with even though I have no interest in marrying them.||65%||41%|
|If two people really like each other, it's all right for them to have sex even if they've known each other for only a short period of time.||50%||36%|
|If I meet someone who I could have a long-term relationship with, I will postpone sex until we really know each other.||74%||79%|
|It's OK for an adult woman to have a child on her own if she has not found the right man to marry.||62%||n/a|
|The main purpose of marriage is to have children.||18%||13%|
|Source: The National Marriage Project/Gallup|