One of my joys in life is talking with people wherever I go. My kids used to be completely embarrassed by this trait of mine but now don’t even pay attention. As my boys are entering adulthood and the challenges, options, and choices they will face, I find myself more interested in how young people are choosing to live their lives. More and more, my scientific polling and studies (hardly) seem to indicate less interest in marriage or kids.
Marriage as an institution has undergone radical changes beginning with all the societal revolts that began in the sixties. First, a new idea emerged of “living together” before marriage. As odd as it may sound to anyone born after the sixties, this was actually a novel, quite radical, and unusual idea. And, it seemed to make so much sense to most of us at the time. Why not have a “try out?” Why invest in marriage and all that goes with it if you can’t live together first in harmony?
I still think it makes sense but studies in the decades since (please don’t ask me to cite them) have indicated exactly the opposite. Living together prior to marriage guarantees no more, and more often less, success for a marriage. The reasons are not fully clear (to me) but a part of it may be the kind of commitment marriage involves, especially if there’s a religious component involved, versus the kind of commitment living together requires.
My favorite recent encounters and the ones most enlightening have been with couples that are simply “dating” or “going together.” When I ask them about marriage plans and, gulp, if they see kids in their future, the answers are almost universally centered on economics.
If, and that’s a big IF they are either married or contemplating marriage, they say at MOST they would want just one kid. The reasons are always that kids will crimp their lifestyle. Those that have already decided not to have kids seem perfectly content with their self-indulgent “free” and carefree life of work, travel, and play.
There was a time when I might have persisted with the questioning and ask them how they might feel as they got older when some of the “play” was less important. Or, how they’d feel at holidays when it might be just them. Now, I simply keep my mouth shut and get their feedback. Sort of like I do in my marriage. My wife spends and does exactly what she wants; I pay for everything, spend hardly anything, and do exactly whatever she asks me to do.
Wait a minute! I just may have made the case of not getting married?
In the past, we saw all our celebrities and other (sports) heroes getting married. Yes, there were numerous divorces but it was expected to get married. Of course, Hollywood embraced marriage and, for that matter, separate beds (think “The Dick Van Dyke Show” with Mary Tyler Moore). We all know how that became more and more relaxed with the passage of time.
So, our culture doesn’t support marriage except for the political football of gay marriage. Does our society encourage having kids? From my point of view, having kids is supported only in religious communities and among certain socio-economic/racial groups.
What will be the long-term effects? Well, I’ve already written about how much of Western society is having fewer kids than replenishment or “staying even.” In Singapore, the government is so concerned that they’ve tried to incentivize couples to have more kids by literally paying them to have a second or third child. Japan now sells more adult diapers than baby ones! There’s not a single country in Europe that has 2.0 or more babies per woman (break even). And, the United States barely tops the 2.0 so we’re heading down that road as well.
The changes we boomers have seen in our lifetimes have been monumental. Of course every generation sees big changes but our generation encouraged and helped usher in many changes in deep-felt beliefs held for thousands of years. Yes, racial bias and bias against certain groups is a wonderful good change. I question many of the other changes, especially the reduction in marriage and having children.