Millennials and Marriage: a changing landscape

After starting the discussion about Millennials and Marriage with a view of the data, perhaps a good second step would be to consider some primary issues affecting how Millennials are viewing and experiencing marriage.

Driving the conversation about Millennials and marriage are two issues which must be handsrecognized at the beginning of any discussion, especially by older generations:

  • Almost near universality of sexual experience prior to marriage by Millennials in America
  • The explosion of cohabitation among Millennials

 

These two factors are influencing the understanding and experience of marriage that Millennials will have and are part of any realistic conversation. On the first point, it is reasonable to assert that 90% of Millennials will have sex prior to marriage, whether in a previous relationship or the existing relationship. Christian Millennials have no notable difference than their secular counterparts in this area.  So how does this compare with previous generation? One study has pointed out that premarital sex rates have always been high since the 1920s. In fact, as USAToday reported in 2006 (which is still accurate for historical numbers), the rate of premarital sex has been steadily rising since the post World War II times. Of course this surveys all races. The challenge for Christianity in the later half of the 20th century is that it primarily understands itself as white, middle class, educated Americans. When considering trends in that socio-economic class, the rates look entirely different than other classes and races. One could say the great white myth of 20th century America has tainted our understanding of the rest of America.

However, there is a difference rising in Millennials.

Millennials MarriageBetween the generational shifts in behavior the most notable change in categories is the number of sexual partners and how religiously faithful people have increasingly engaged in this behavior. In other words, the lines between those who are not Christians and those who are, and how they approach issues of sex and sexuality has disappeared. For Millennials, first time experiences of premarital sex are only delayed by religious adherence. There still is a movement towards sexual purity and abstinence among Millennials, but is given lip service and not validated by actual actions.

The heightened, and openness, about promiscuity among Millennials has led to the second factor that is changing the landscape of Millennials and marriage: cohabitation.

Since the 1950s, cohabitation has exploded by 900%. As of now, for Millennials, 75% will cohabit ate before they are married. (Of course that number might be soft and it could rise as high as 80%-85%)  There are plenty of reasons for increased cohabitation: lower financial achievement, increased student debts, social acceptability, and even a media saturated environment that promotes this lifestyle. It is likely a reasonable statement to point out that cohabitation is here to stay socially.

There are certainly drawbacks to cohabitation. I’ve listed these in the previous post and will simply refer you there. Many pastors and well meaning leaders will cite “studies” that say a cohabitating couple is 50% more likely to divorce than non-cohabitating couples. The challenge here is that too many of these studies reflect data from a time prior to social acceptance of cohabitation. Indeed, it is likely that over the next 5 years the commonality of cohabitation will effectively nullify its effects on divorce rates for Millennials.

What cohabitation does do that is a negative is it: delays marriage, increases the likelihood of childbirths out of wedlock, creates a negative emotional impact on the relationship, has negative developmental impacts on children, increased promiscuity outside the relationship, and other factors.

Along these lines, it is too early to tell at what rate Millennials will divorce and how often. Since the preceding generations, particularly their parents, divorced at a rate unseen in history, they have seen this situation. What does seem to be happening is that Millennials are not only delaying marriage, but also have a significantly lower view of marriage than previous generations. With first-time child births to unmarried mothers in their 20s exceeding 50%, there are many issues to deal with in this entire category.interest in marriage

It is a different conversation to have with Millennials about marriage than the generations before. Particularly in light of the rising post-Christian culture that has arrived, the Church stands at an odd crossroads where it needs to carefully choose its stance and approach.

There are opportunities though, and if we look carefully we can realize them and address them appropriately.

In the next post, we’ll take a some time to talk about what these opportunities are and some ways to initially address them.