Millennials: Saving Marriage for Last

A recent Pew Research study indicates that young Americans value parenthood over marriage. Here's why I agree with them.

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Over time, marriage has become less common in American households, with married couples representing only 48 percent of U.S. households in 2010. The Pew survey revealed a stark divide between the family experiences of younger and older respondents. Eighty-nine percent of respondents who are 65 and older said that their parents were married while they were growing up, while only 63 percent of Millennials said that their parents were married during their childhood.

"Our attitudes toward relationships are often derived from our parents," observed family therapist Wandra Chenault of the Harlem Counseling Group in an interview. Those interactions "have a huge impact on the way we interact with other people, especially in relationships," she added. "If an individual's parents were never married, then [he or she feels] less pressured to tie the knot." Chenault noted that shotgun weddings, a form of forced marriage linked to unwanted pregnancies, are largely a thing of the past.

Love, making a lifelong commitment and companionship are listed in the Pew survey results as the top three reasons Millennial respondents would get married. However, greater acceptance of casual sex in society might be hindering Millennials from discovering those three qualities in partners.

"Sex has become so casual that there's no commitment; without commitment, marriage will fail," said Chenault. "It also has a lot to do with age. When people are very young, they often run away from commitment."

The Media Is the Message

Pop culture has had a huge influence in shaping Millennial attitudes toward relationships. "A lot of the music that we listen to and the television shows that we watch promote promiscuity and make it seem acceptable" to have commitment-free sex, said Jamal Peters, editor-in-chief of Socially Awkward Magazine, a website targeted toward Millennials. "It's almost like the media glorifies that type of lifestyle and tries to make being married seem boring."

Economic security -- long a top reason for getting married -- isn't perceived by Millennials as being tied to matrimony, regardless of what statistics might say about the correlation between marriage and income. Many Millennials believe that marital status makes no difference in achieving lifelong goals. Nowadays, marriage isn't necessary to move forward with your career, have social status or be financially stable, in the view of the majority of Millennials responding to the Pew survey.

The media have played a key role in exposing today's generation to alternative family structures, with reality television leading the charge. Single mothers on reality-TV shows, like Kandi Burruss of Real Housewives of Atlanta and Shaunie O'Neal of Basketball Wives, are prime examples of strong, single and successful mothers. Their experiences show that marriage isn't necessary to attain happiness, be successful or raise good children.

That last part is especially important to young adults like me. Whether they're single because they never tied the knot or as a result of divorce, these women have one thing in common: They're capable of raising their children on their own. They don't need a ring on their finger to be good mothers.

Television shows like VH1's Single Ladies glamorize the unmarried life. They show women that wedlock doesn't define who you are and that you can be independent and fabulous. "Seeing examples of alternative lifestyles in the media has opened our generations' eyes to the fact that marriage doesn't always equate to happiness," said Peters. "They've shown us that you can be a good parent and you can achieve your goals without necessarily being married."