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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.

26
Mar 2014
POSTED BY Garet
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Church

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Millennials and Marriage

Part of the growing conversation in so many churches concerns the rising generation of Millennials and how to effectively minister to them. As both a Millennial and a member of several staffs of established churches, there are some unique challenges in this conversation. Perhaps the most pressing is the change of perspective that has occurred between ministry models in just two generations. This change in perspective has been pushed by the changing demographics of the Millennial generation around marriage and having children.

One of the leading questions that I often begin with in these conversations is simple: What is, in a quick guess, the average ages for first time marriage among Millennial men and women?

By surveying answers we often quickly get a snapshot of how close we are attached to the reality of social change that is going on in our society. Because things have changed, things have massively changed.

The average first time marriage for Millennials is, as of the 2010 Census, 28.1 for men and 25.9 for women. At this point, in early 2014, I would project that it is 29 for men and 26 for women (often depending on two factors: education and location of urban/suburban/rural.) See this chart:

First Time Marriage

For Millennials there are a host of reasons that marriage is increasingly delayed, not the least of which is growing acceptance of cohabitation, but also continuing education, less access to jobs, increased debt burdens, among other factors. The more educated a Millennial is, the longer they, generally, put off marriage.

Of course, the skyrocketing rate of cohabitation also plays into this trend. In my experience among higher educated, suburban Millennials about 66%, or 2/3rds of these Millennials, are going to cohabitate before marriage. This trend is being reflected in the number of couples cohabitating before marriage. Even though I think this number is soft (I think it is much higher) we see that as of 2012, there are 8.5 million couples cohabitating prior to marriage. This delays marriage by at least 18 to 24 months, and, even in secular eyes is a growing reason couples simply never get married:

Cohabitation

Alongside this trend of increasingly delayed marriage is the trend of delaying first time child-births in women. Earlier today I read a terrific post by Ashley McGuire at the Family Studies Blog that discussed issues around child-births and women between 20 and 40. One of the graphics that was supplied in the post showed trends of age and education for first time child-births:

average first birth

Another reality behind these numbers concerns how 55% of child-births to mothers between the ages of 20-29 are to single moms. So, we can see that many Millennial families, even in their first time marriage, begin with a blended family situation of one or more children, likely, from another relationship.

So, in seeing this trend of increasingly delayed marriage among Millennials coupled with delayed child-bearing means that most Millennials are not settling into their “family life” (or a “nested life stage”) until their mid-30s. Whereas, 25 years ago, you could plan and program for a young adult ministry that reached married couples with children in their mid-20s, this is simply no longer the case. With the effects of delayed marriage and child-births impacting Millennials, we are seeing couples in their early 40s with children heading to kindergarten.

If your current ministry uses a life stage segmented approach to ministry, these statistics and realities should begin shaping how you approach breaking out those issues. Another challenge in multi-generational churches is that, in light of these realities, older generations will not have the same life experiences so many of the younger generations sitting next them are having.

All of this breaks to beginning a different conversation about how we, as churches, are going to approach ministry and marriage related issues with Millennials. For churches with older leadership teams, those above 55, the distance sociologically and culturally from the 20somethings in our pews and chairs is increasing. As a result we need to spend focused, strategic moments planning how to reach and minister rather different life stage segments.

Millennials are approaching life differently. How we begin with grace and extend mercy has as much an impact as the truthfulness of the Gospel we proclaim. 

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