Millennials like to ruin everything, right? From cereal to golf to handshakes, you name something and some hyperbolic headline will claim that millennials have killed it. That's why this news is so welcoming. Sorry to break it to you, America, but millennials are actually winning at something: marriage. That's right, as surprising as it might sound, young Americans might be doing better at marriage than our parents, because divorce rates are dropping, according to new data analysis. Take that, Aunt Karen with three divorces who always asks me about my student loans.
It's true that young people aren't necessarily getting married as much as we used to. Marriage rates in American adults have dropped by about nine percent in the last 25 years, according to recent data from the Pew Research Center.
Not everyone is defaulting to marriage as a necessary life choice but, when we do, we're making it last. New research from the University of Maryland sociology professor Philip Cohen analyzed Census data and found that the divorce rate has dropped a whopping 18 percent from 2008 to 2016. That's a huge drop in not that long of a time period. And although older people are historically less likely to get divorced, even when Cohen controlled for age as a factor, there was still a drop of eight percent. So something big is changing. Boomers were getting divorced at higher rates than their parents, but millennials are taking a different track — so why the shift?
One of the causes that Cohen points to is that marriages are now happening slightly later in life than they used to. That may sound like a heartening sign, like people are waiting to get married until they're ready and therefore the marriages last longer — but it it's actually part of another trend. Marriages are also, more and more, becoming limited to the highly educated and, often, financially better off. It's become an exclusive institution, rather than something that most people gravitate to at a certain point in their life. Cohen suggests that marriage is now more of a status symbol than it used to be. Meanwhile, lower-income families may have couples cohabitating and having children together, but not necessarily getting married. In that sense, lower divorce rates aren't necessarily a good thing, so much as a reminder that income inequality is continuing to worsen and that affects crucial life choices.
It's not unusual to hear about someone delaying or avoiding getting married or having children because they simply can't afford it. For some, it might be that they want to avoid the cost of the wedding itself. As Hazel, 31, tells Bustle, “Even though my girlfriend and I can (finally!) get married, we don’t want to. We both believe that as long as we’re committed to each other, we don’t need a piece of paper to tell us that, too. Plus, we’d rather do something else with the money we would have spent on a reception!”
But for others, it's about the potential financial liability of the marriage. “If I got married, I’d have to take on my partner’s debt. No thanks. I’d rather our finances be completely separate," Christine, 35, tells Bustle. With many young people struggling with student loan debt, it's easy to see why that could be a common concern.
Dropping divorce rates sound like a good thing — and, in a sense, of course they are — divorces can be a nasty (and expensive) thing to have to go through. And though changing sentiments about marriage might just be a natural cultural evolution, seeing a well-established life goal be taken out of some people's reach due to income inequality and financial pressures is worrying. So when hearing statistics about changing divorce rates, it's crucial to dig a little deeper into the socio-economic factors at play.