Declining marriage rates and a rising average age at marriage have led many to speculate that the institution itself is less important to millennials than it has been to past generations. But a study from researchers at Ball State University and Brigham Young University suggest that millennials actually value marriage so much that they’re delaying it.
“These kinds of studies continue to affirm that the delay in marriage may not represent that people think marriage is not important, but [rather that] it’s impacted by something else,” lead author and BYU assistant professor Brian J. Willoughby explained in a statement.
Willoughby and his co-author, Scott Hall of Ball State, asked 571 single undergrads to assign values on a pie chart to how much future effort and energy they would put into marriage, parenthood, career and hobbies/leisure activities, respectively. The total on each chart had to equal 100%.
Marriage topped the charts, coming in at an average of 29.9%. Parenthood followed closely at 27.6%, with career garnering 26.7% of the pie and leisure claiming only 15.8%.
The researchers did a follow-up a year later with the same participants, and found that overall, the value placed on marriage increased over time.
Reasons for Marrying Late
If young adults value marriage so much, then why are they delaying their nuptials?
One major factor is economic, the researchers suggest; millennials want to set themselves up for the best possible marriage with a strong financial foundation. Marriage is increasingly being seen as a crowning achievement, rather than a base.
“We’ve been tracking this shift in what marriage means to young adults,” Willoughby said. “Instead of marriage being thought of as the foundation on which you build a life with someone, it’s now a sort of capstone. They see it in terms of, ‘If you get through college and you have careers, getting married is how you reward yourself.’”
What research hasn’t shown, the authors note, is if this strategy actually leads to better marital relationships.
The full study has been published in the Journal of Psychology.