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Is Marriage Becoming Obsolete?

Nearly 40 percent of Americans think marriage is becoming obsolete. Are they right? Or is marriage just undergoing some significant changes?

You’d never know it, but 39 percent of Americans think that marriage is becoming obsolete.

Finally. It’s not quite half but it’s a big enough number for me to feel vindicated. Before I was old enough to tie my shoes I knew I’d probably never tie the knot. Now, according to a Time Magazine/Pew Research story, 39 percent of people think marriage is becoming as obsolete as a VHS tape or a dial phone. The number rises and falls depending on who you ask. Only 27 percent of college-educated people think it’s on its way out – that rises to 62 percent when the respondents are unmarried parents living with a partner.

Still, 39 percent average is a lot more than I’d have imagined, especially when you consider the cultural catbird seat marriage occupies. Almost all of us are expected to do it. Time’s Belinda Luscombe quotes sociologist Andrew Cherlin: "Getting married is a way to show family and friends that you have a successful personal life," and "It's like the ultimate merit badge."

It’s also a cash cow. According to Time the wedding industry is a $40-billion-plus business; says there’s $72 billion spent on weddings in the U.S. each year. There are many glossy wedding magazines (though none on marriage that I know of) and numerous wedding shows, from “Bridezillas” to the new "Bridalplasty" in which brides-to-be compete for a dream wedding and various plastic surgeries their grooms won’t see until they lift the veil (because it’s every man’s dream to marry someone he couldn’t pick out of a lineup).

Then there’s gay marriage, which has made many people think of an old institution in a brand new way. Canada legalized same-sex marriage in 2005 and the sky didn’t fall in on the Great White North. Chicken Littling over the issue in the U.S., however, has denied the civil rights of many and the hoopla caused marriage to be further cemented as a Holy Grail, something you’re supposed to want (though the real issue is simply equal protection under the law). Of course I support the rights of same-sex couples to end up saying things like “She’s your mother. You change her corn pads,” even though the more vaunted marriage is, the more I’ll probably be marginalized as an iconoclastic anti-social unmarried weirdo. That’s love.

Anyway, it’s all an awful lot of sturm und drang over something 39 percent of people think is going the way of Chess King.

Marriage is at an all-time low; only 52 percent of legal adults are taking part in it at the moment. The Census Bureau is now including unmarried and same-sex couples as well as foster children in its definition of family when measuring poverty (taking pooled incomes into account) partly due to the increase in cohabitation -- 13.5 percent in one year, which “ analysts largely attributed to people unwilling to make long-term marriage commitments in the fact of persisting unemployment,” says the AP.

On the other hand, persisting unemployment could easily jack up the number of people cohabitating to help pay the bills.

Anna North writing in Jezebel honed squarely in on the fact that the more wealthy and educated people are, the better their chances of getting and staying married, though the less well-off want marriage just as much: “The most important gap in this country -- the one we really need to work to close -- may not be between married and unmarried, but between those who have the means to do what they want in life, and those who don't.”

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