Historically, we humans have been obsessed with marriage. In previous eras, marriage was the acceptable conduit to procreation and population growth. In more recent times, with an increase of births out of wedlock and an emphasis of affection over duty in partner selection, this has changed. Regardless, marriage is still a very important concept for post-industrial societies.
Marriage is the beginning of a family, it is a security blanket and more than anything, it is a tradition. The quest for love and marriage is an overriding theme in our daily lives. Though marital success and the average age of betrothal have fluctuated a lot over the years, the idea of lifelong commitment has been around for centuries.
Despite all this, marriage rates in post-industrial countries have been falling steadily in the last decade. Japan’s steadily shrinking population (the Wilson Quarterly claims that mortality rates exceeded birth rates in 2006) can be explained by many factors, one of which is a dwindling marriage rate. Even the United States, often thought of as a lively, booming country, finds itself with lower marital rates than have been seen for more than 90 years, according to the Washington Post.
An article on the Huffington Post suggests that these falling marriage rates are increasingly common in all developed countries. The obvious question is why is this happening? One explanation for this phenomenon is simply a shift in priorities.
Previously, marriage had been a central part of our idea of “success,” especially for women. Marriage used to be the only way women could gain financial security. However, in the last century, when opportunities for career-driven women have really opened up, this has not been the case. A study by Forbes magazine found that more than one-third of women do not define their accomplishment by marriage anymore. JapanToday.com suggests that a similar explanation is prevalent for the high percentage of unmarried Japanese women (34 percent of those in their 30s).
Additionally, it’s possible that the frightening rise in divorce rates has put many people off the idea of marriage. Though the infamous statistic of 50 percent of marriages ending in divorce is dubious (according to Time Magazine), divorce is no longer an uncommon event. With the idea of eventual separation so prevalent, marriage is thought of as a kind of emotional investment, an investment that could potentially fail.
Another reason may be that religion is flagging in many developed countries. The fact that marital rates are falling in Japan, one of the world’s least religious nations, does not seem to be a coincidence. Marriage has traditionally been a religious institution and couple with a more agnostic or atheistic mindset may find it to be outdated or unnecessary.
Spiritual context aside, marriage in the United States is still considered a significant event. And though the statistics show that many couples are choosing not to tie the knot, or at least push it off to later years, it’s hard to believe that marriage culture is failing. With a plethora of shows such as “Say Yes to the Dress” or “Four Weddings,” it seems we are more obsessed than ever with the idea of eternal companionship.
Certainly it isn’t as if no one is getting married anymore; it seems that matrimony just isn’t seen to be as necessary as it used to be. Marriage isn’t the zenith of everyone’s life anymore. Many young people, both men and women, find themselves focused on their careers, their friendships, family or commitment to various organizations. Whether or not this is a positive phenomenon depends on the country.
In Japan, the falling marriage and birth rates are so alarming that the government has in the last couple years launched campaigns promoting marriage and childbirth, according to the Telegraph. Japan has made its name in the world through a driven, hard-work ethic; perhaps it has gone too far. Its cultural shift in priorities has left marriage and sex in the dust.
The falling population that Japan is experiencing is less of an issue in the United States. So should we be worried about the fact that marriage is a shrinking institution? Probably not. Unless there comes a time when we seem to be on the brink of social collapse, personal priorities should be respected. If your life goal is to get married and pop out five children, so be it. If you couldn’t care less about marriage and want to be making bank in 10 years, that’s OK, too. Whether or not you choose to settle down, be thankful we live in a country and an era where that is our own choice to make.
Hailey Gross is a sophomore in English from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.