NO ONE WANTS A KIM KARDASHIAN MARRIAGE
Young people voice a number of concerns about getting married, and these concerns may drive them to cohabitate rather than marry. In fact, when quizzed about the benefits they see in living together vs. getting married, people who opt for cohabitation over marriage tend to cite the fear of divorce as the central reason not to get married.
We've known for a number of years that young people have concerns about their ability to maintain in a successful marriage. For example, among high school seniors in the late '90s, about 40 percent felt that if they did marry, they were not convinced that they would stay married to the same person throughout their whole lifetime.
Similarly, among adults, many people choose cohabitation as a way to test-drive the relationship before getting married. Others fear marriage in a larger sense, and opt to live together instead of tying the knot at all. Even people who have no personal experience with divorce (say, of their parents or friends) are concerned about it happening to them.
So why are they worried? "That may be because there are so many high profile stories about divorce -- the Kim Kardashians, and J. Lo," says Sharon Sassler, associate professor in the Department of Policy Analysis and Management at Cornell University. Sassler studies people's attitudes toward marriage and divorce.
What also doesn't help is the media's constant repetition of the statistic that one out of two marriages is destined to fail, she says, since this statistic is inaccurate: Divorce rates have been declining over the last 20 years. "It seems that the contentious nature of how relationships are portrayed worry today's young adults," Sassler says. How the media may affect our perceptions of marriage has not been worked out, but given the fact that it's the unhappy rather than the happy endings that are typically brought to our attention, it seems possible that this may have something to do with our changing beliefs about marriage itself.
Fear of Fallout: Economic to Emotional
No one embraces the idea of divorce, but until recently, fear of divorce was not generally a deterrent to marrying. What has changed? Have celebrity break-ups really had an impact? People fear divorce for different reasons -- psychological, emotional, and economic -- and whichever reason resonates with them can be enough to keep them from getting married at all.
Sassler's own recent work has found that some people worry largely about the emotional turmoil that could result from divorce. They feel the potential pitfalls of divorce make them question whether marriage is worth it. People said the legal and financial stickiness of divorce was a "hassle," and that made them shy away from marriage. In other words, in many of the participants' minds, the benefits of marriage were simply not enough to counter the potential psychological and financial pain of divorce.