Marriage Expectations: Young People Expect Marriages To Last, Study Says

Why The Biggest Thing We Expect From Marriage May Be The Most Unrealistic

Even in an age when about half of marriages end in divorce, young people are still hopeful about their own marriages lasting.

According to a recent survey, the Clark University Poll of Emerging Adults, found that 86 percent of people--single and married--aged 18 to 29 expected their marriages to last a lifetime. Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a research professor of psychology at Clark University in Massachusetts, spoke with the Huffington Post about the results.

What are the major findings of this study?

Eighty-six percent agree with the statement “I expect to have a marriage that lasts a lifetime.” And again, that’s, in one sense, not surprising, but in an era where the divorce rate is 50 percent it means that a lot of them are going to have an unexpected divorce, a lot of them are going to have that dream not pan out. There’s another one: Sixty percent agree with the statement, “I expect to have to give up some of my career goals in order to have the family life I want.” What was interesting about that was there was no difference between young men and young women. The young men were just as likely as the young women that they expect to have to give up some of their career goals to have the family life they want. And that really is new. That’s something that I don’t think their fathers would have said, and certainly not their grandfathers. But these young men appear to be very focused on not just having a career but having a family life too, and being an involved father.

Why did you begin this study?

I’ve been studying this age group [18 to 29 year olds] for 20 years. Before I began studying them, not much research had been done on them. I thought it would be an interesting time of life to study and it certainly has been. I eventually concluded that this is a new life stage that’s developed because people marry so much later, have their first child so much later, stay in school so much longer than they used to. There’s now this space between adolescence and adulthood, so I gave it the name “emerging adulthood” for 18 to 25 year olds especially. And I’ve been focusing on that ever since. So I’ve been studying them for a long time, but this was my first chance to do a national study.

In light of the current divorce rate, why do you think young people expect their marriages to last?

Well, I think because we still have a very romantic view of marriage as a society. Other surveys have shown that close to 90 percent of emerging adults say that they expect to find their soul mate as a marriage partner. That’s a very romantic ideal. It’s a sort of ideal person that’s just right for you. And so I think even though many young people have seen their parents divorce, and they’re all aware of the 50 percent divorce rate, they still go into it very determined to have a successful marriage, and very hopeful of reaching that soulmate ideal.

Why do 14 percent of young people say they don't expect to have a marriage that lasts a lifetime?

It’s difficult to tell from a survey. But that’s why I often like to do interviews as well as survey research so I can find what’s behind the survey item. In this case though, I could say that the 14 percent are people who do not expect to marry. I think at 18-29, again from my research, and research other people have done, not everybody expects to get married. And in fact, 86 percent [the percentage of people who said they do expect to have a marriage that lasts a lifetime] happens to be just about exactly the percentage of young people who actually do marry by age 40. So my guess is that what’s going on there is that everybody who expects to marry, expects it to last a lifetime.

Were the young people in the study realistic about marriage?

No. A lot of research that I and others have done has shown that [young people] have a very romantic view of marriage. And I think the thing about it that is troubling is that it’s a romantic ideal that is very difficult to sustain for a lifetime. I mean, everybody likes the feeling of being in love, it’s a wonderful thing. But whether you can sustain that for 50, 60 years is questionable. And I think that it’s especially difficult when couples then are, in a few years, raising young children, and there’s so many stresses that go along with that and they don’t get time to spend together anymore so much, and their sex life goes soft for a while. Usually, for a long while. And so they have all these responsibilities and stresses involved in taking care of young children and they lose that romantic feeling for each other. And I think because they’re expecting marriage to be a continuous source of romantic feelings, that sometimes they say to themselves, “Well, I guess I don’t love my husband/wife anymore. I’m going to get divorced.” I guess it’d be smarter to view that as a realistic adjustment to the new phase of life, of raising children. I think that’s an adjustment that’s sometimes difficult for young people to make.

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