Jewish World Review July 6, 2000/ 3 Tamuz, 5760
Youths fear marriage ---
MARRIAGE IS MAKING A COMEBACK in the United States
except among those who chronologically should be lining
up next. Young Americans apparently aren't aiming for
the altar as in previous generations.
That is to say, members of the
sex-drugs-and-rock-'n'-roll generation have begotten a
new, improved model of their adolescent selves.
Boomer off- spring, many now in their 20s, want the
same thing their parents did: freedom, choice and more
freedom. They just want it sooner, longer and possibly
So says a study released recently by Rutgers
University's National Marriage Project, which found that
young Americans prefer casual sex and low-commitment
Today's singles scene is not oriented toward marriage,
nor is it dedicated to romantic love as it has been in the
past," says David Popenoe, co-director of the project
and a sociology professor at Rutgers.
The report also found that young Americans favor living
together as a tryout for marriage or as a substitute;
believe that sex is for fun and has no strings attached;
fear divorce; and see marriage and divorce as a potential
All of which is to say that young Americans are smarter,
if not wiser.
They are correct in fearing divorce, which is assuredly
an economic liability. They have every reason to believe
that sex is only for fun and has no strings attached,
though disease and pregnancy and heartache wait in
ambush for the soon-to-be disabused.
They're not wrong to believe that living together is a
substitute for marriage. They just don't know any better.
Research has shown that couples who live together
before marriage divorce more than couples who don't.
Though statistics are scant on what happens to families"
who live together and never marry, we might guess what
happens to their progeny. Children of divorce and other
tentative family arrangements have higher rates of
truancy, drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, emotional
problems and academic underachievement.
Understandably, these children are reluctant to follow
their parents' path. So marriage may be one of society's
insoluble problems. Why? Because though we know
that marriage, like broccoli, is good for us - happily
married people live longer and their children are healthier
- a 50 percent divorce rate suggests that at least half of
us can't stand prosperity.
Marriage is hard work, and our expectations for
happiness are nearly impossible. It is axiomatic that
people who just want to have fun are doomed to
disappointment and failure.
Rather than insisting that fun and happiness are
respectively frivolous and unattainable - they won't
believe us - perhaps it's time to redefine marriage. We
can probably agree that marriage is good and necessary
to our national health and that our goals should be set
But we might also acknowledge that forever is a long,
To say that marriage may need some adjusting isn't to
deny its importance. But problematically, the knots we
tie today are bound with the same frayed strands from
an era when newlyweds were lucky to live another 20
years. Distracted by survival, few worried about golden
anniversaries or had time for ruminations of the modern
sort: Is my marriage fulfilling, or should I move to Paris
and unravel the mystery of Rilke?
Yet we expect young people weaned on divorce to
court each other over candlelight and waft down
flower-strewn church aisles into wedded bliss as though
nothing were changed. The challenge isn't to convince
them that they're wrong, but to show them something
JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.
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