Attitudes towards marriage have evolved remarkably throughout human history. As people strive to achieve more throughout their lives, they begin to question the validity of marriage and the many challenges it might bring (living arrangements, parenting, balancing other aspects of life, etc). Gen Z is changing their attitudes toward marriage as they don’t prioritize marriage and instead, focus on other aspects of their lives.
The beginning of marriage
The first recorded evidence of marriage dates back to 2350 B.C., in Mesopotamia. Marriage was regarded as a legal contract between the future husband and his father-in-law. This contract ensured the continuation of the family line and provided social stability. Over the next several decades, marriage was embraced by ancient Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans, each changing marriage traditions to fit with their cultures.
For ancient Hebrews, a wedding ceremony occurred in the early youth, and marriage contracts were made within the clan and family. Usually, a match was negotiated which included an agreement on conditions and payment of a bridal price.
In ancient Greece, marriage was regarded as a social responsibility rather than a personal relationship. The ceremony marked the transition from childhood to adulthood. Parents usually arranged marriages with the main goal being continuing the family line, making the marriage an issue of public interest.
Ancient Roman Society was highly structured and, similarly to the Hebrews and Greeks, Romans often did not marry for love but rather as an agreement between two families.
In the last few centuries, the mentality regarding marriage has changed. Instead of marrying to continue the family tradition or to unite two families, most cultures consider marriage to be about love. Most couples choose whether or not to have children later on and don't see it as an obligation.
Gen Z is the term used to describe the generation born between 1997 and 2012. They are currently between the ages of 11 and 26. The national average age for marriage in the United States is 27 years old for women and 29 years old for men. The older side of Gen Z is reaching the average age of marriage, leaving many wondering how Gen Z’s changing attitudes will further revolutionize the tradition.
Most Gen Z accept that not all relationships are permanent. Gen Z values a deep emotional connection with their partner and tends to be open to creating a balance to meet their emotional and physical needs. For this reason, Gen Z is deciding to either not get married or wait until they meet the right person.
Why isn't Gen Z prioritizing marriage?
There are several reasons why Gen Z is delaying or denying permanent partnerships:
The importance of financial stability
Prioritizing career advancement over relationships
Increasing divorce rates
Fears of commitment
The importance of financial stability
In the ever-changing world economy, many worry about the distribution of limited resources among the population. Rapidly falling unemployment increases inflation while decreasing economic productivity. For people, unemployment means struggling with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Without jobs, people cannot provide adequately for both themselves and their families.
Financial stability is also a core element of a marriage. Stability brings couples closer, helping them plan out future economic goals while simultaneously learning about themselves and their partner. Money problems can foster conflict and seriously impact the stability of a relationship. Having a stable source of income can provide peace of mind and security for the couple making it easier to pursue other passions without financial concern.
If Gen Z decides to have children in the future, finding economic stability is key. Economic instability causes hardship for families, disrupting routine and affecting parenting. Children living in poverty have higher odds of experiencing poor health problems and can even experience a shorter life expectancy.
Much of Gen Z is also accepting the harsh reality that raising children in poverty is a selfish act. For this reason, they do not want to participate in the growing child poverty rate across the world.
The unprecedented economy has made many fear a potential economic recession (a significant decline in economic activity that is spread across the economy). This recession would reduce various opportunities, creating failed businesses, fewer job opportunities, and lower wages.
Nearly half of Gen Z (48%) have various side hustles. Some of these side hustles include owning small businesses. The potential economic recession proposed by experts will have a detrimental effect on many small businesses Gen Z is starting. Gen Z might either be forced to abandon their small businesses or focus solely on their business, leaving little room for relationships.
In a world with constant economic uncertainty, marriage is the last thing on young people’s minds.
Prioritizing career advancement over relationships
Those that take the time to focus on their careers recognize their skills and experience. Most of Gen Z are interested in careers involving business, healthcare, and technology. These are usually chosen because of the financial benefits they might bring.
Careers in the business, healthcare, and technology fields are also very demanding and require long hours and effort to succeed. Demanding careers often require employees to work extra time, ending their work shifts late.
Many young people work overtime since it allows them to put in extra effort, leading to better results while demonstrating dedication to their job and company. The increased recognition of their hard work can lead to monetary compensation in the form of bonuses or promotions.
Gen Z prioritizes their careers over their relationships since it strengthens their sense of self-worth and independence. For many, a huge goal is to advance in their careers, ensuring financial growth and an extensive professional portfolio.
As mentioned previously, financial stability is crucial in any future relationship people may have. Gen Z chooses to obtain that financial stability through career advancement. This makes young people feel more independent and secure in their current financial status.
Becoming independent gives people the ability to care for themselves either emotionally, financially, or physically. Being independent is great for self-esteem and confidence.
Gen Z sees career progression as a gateway to new opportunities and a new sense of purpose that is only hindered by marriage.
A college degree is becoming increasingly important in today’s competitive job market. Each time, it is becoming more and more common for employers to require applicants to have at least a bachelor's degree for most jobs. Pursuing a college degree improves career opportunities, therefore, increases economic stability.
To employers, those with a college degree are seen as being more job-ready, more professional, and more mature. Obtaining a college degree also implies potential employees already possess some skills that will be useful in the future. Factors such as GPA and accomplishments can be a sign of effort and possession of employability skills they may be looking for.
Pursuing further education delays marriage since more young people enter a crucial stage of life in which they are learning what will eventually shape their future. Some careers require people to study for close to a decade, which leaves little time for marriage.
Pursuing a career in the medical, law, and humanity fields takes a long time to complete. Since the program is so rigorous, students simply don’t have the time to pursue complex romantic relationships while trying to maintain good grades. Drama tied to relationships can often distract students from learning altogether.
College is also a time of reflection and the beginning of true independence. For this reason, many young people choose not to marry while studying giving themselves time before pursuing potential long-term relationships.
The transition from high school to college is tedious. However, that period is when students can truly find themselves and their purpose. The high school experience offers a very limited glimpse of true independence, since students are still not fully responsible for their decisions and rely on their parents for guidance. In college, students have to learn to be held accountable for their actions, since they can fully make their own decisions.
Since many careers Gen Z tend to pursue require college degrees, focusing on continuing education is becoming increasingly important. Committing to a serious relationship while trying to focus on studies can result to be extremely difficult. This difficulty combined with the newly gained sense of freedom college brings makes marriage unimportant for Gen Z.
Increasing divorce rates
The COVID-19 pandemic caused a spike in divorce rates of 34%. Experts speculate that this is a combination of various reasons such as stress, financial strain, unemployment, effects of death, mental illness, etc.
COVID-19 caused a temporary recession resulting in job loss, temporary layoffs, and a reduction in regular paid hours. As stated previously, all of these economic factors can increase anxiety and depression, making pursuing a stable romantic relationship extremely difficult.
The pandemic has caused the death of 6 million people worldwide. Many people continue to struggle with the grief of losing a loved one that stemmed from the pandemic. Grief can cause a serious strain on existing relationships.
Coping with the loss of a loved one comes with temporary personality changes that may create tensions in relationships. Significant others may feel neglected and have difficulty coping with the intense grief felt by their partner. This causes them to pull away temporarily.
COVID-19 has also been linked with high levels of anxiety and depression symptoms. Anxiety may cause an individual to become irritable or excessively worried. Constant stress in a relationship can contribute to unnecessary arguments and a lack of effective communication.
Depression, on the other hand, can lead to becoming less involved and to having trouble enjoying time together. This can make the relationship feel like a chore and can cause people’s significant other to feel alone.
Almost 50% of all marriages in the United States will end in divorce or separation. For Gen Z, it has become common to hear of breakups in their communities or even be personally affected by them through parents or relatives.
The statistic mentioned previously is very scary for most. There is a stigma surrounding divorce and most perceive it as a sign of failure or something to be ashamed of. Gen Z is scared that their marriage will end in divorce and fear they will not be able to strengthen their families.
Gen Z is so scared of the possibility of a divorce, they avoid that risk by not getting married in the first place.
Fears of Commitment
Fear of commitment can take various forms. Those affected by it are usually reluctant to partake in relationships because they fear a relationship failing. The increasing divorce rates also contribute to this fear because of the many stigmas surrounding separation.
Many people that struggle with this fear can trace it back to their past traumatic experiences or simply use it as a protective response to prevent potential heartache. For some, their fear of commitment is so strong that it is almost impossible to have long-term relationships.
Fear regarding relationships and marriage can cause those affected by it to lose valuable relationships. This leads to feelings of isolation and loneliness taking a further toll on the person’s mental and physical well-being.
This fear can also prevent someone from enjoying their current meaningful relationships, potentially harming their partner. This fear can lead to failed relationships, since it prevents partners from achieving their goals and being on the same page with the true meaning of a relationship.
Many acknowledge this fear and choose not to marry since it would be unfair to their partner.
Evolution of marriage
From marrying to continuing the family line or uniting two families to marrying for love, the concept of marriage has developed substantially. Marriage will continue to evolve and Gen Z’s changing attitudes are no exception.
Gen Z is prone to making their own decisions and choosing to partake in situations that are best for them. Factors such as the importance of financial stability, prioritizing career advancement over relationships, continuing education, increasing divorce rates, and fears of commitment all play key roles in the prioritization of marriage.
While there are certain exceptions, much of Gen Z is choosing to either delay marriage or to not partake in it.