The changing statistics of American families are startling. They tell us a lot about ourselves as a nation.
I’ve become more attuned to them as I wrote my chapters for The New Love Deal: What You Must Know Before Marrying, Moving In, or Moving On!, a book I co-authored with Terry Savage and Judge Michele Lowrance, due out in June.
We are marrying later in life – but still marrying. The average age for men is now 29 and for women, 27. About half the population is married, and those who aren’t expect to marry and are hopeful about the happiness to come as a couple. While marriage may be less central to our American life, it doesn’t mean that people do not want committed relationships. In fact, many more couples are choosing to cohabit: the number increased by 88 percent between 1990 and 2007.
The changing statistics are also evident in parenting. Artificial insemination is also on the rise. Even more startling is the rise of web sites for adults who want to co-parent with someone but do not want a romantic relationship with them – literally friends (or maybe not even friends) with children! Nowadays, couples sometimes want a child more than a lifetime commitment.
Almost 40 percent of all babies are born to unmarried women, and only 40 percent of those mothers live with the parent of their child. Parenting rather than marrying may be the new ‘golden ring.’
And speaking of rings, today either the man or the woman is as likely to propose to the other, and allegedly there is a new “jewelry product” in the form of engagement rings for men. The ‘masculine’ rings have entered the market in response to the marriage of men to each other, but some of the other men marrying women have said they want one too!
Then there’s the impact of same-sex marriages. Bans against same-sex marriage are generally in free fall. I predict that the number of states that allow same-sex marriage will increase until we can barely remember when same-sex marriage was not the law.
And once a couple is together – whether same-sex or straight – all bets are off about who will be the breadwinner and who will do the primary parenting. Societal expectations and employment opportunities have shifted for both sexes; it is finally (almost) true that anyone can grow up to be anything they want.
What does this all mean for today’s couples? It means that each couple has to find their own way with fewer templates to guide them. Ideally, it will mean that the promises made to each other will be the law of their relationship and that couples will rely less on the law and society’s expectations to dictate its terms. It also means that the new love relationships might require more analysis and maturity than the traditional one.
What is patently clear is that no longer does ‘love come first,’ nor does ‘then comes marriage,’ nor is it necessarily the mother ‘coming down the street with the baby carriage.’ Even nursery rhymes need to be rewritten to fit our changing world.
Image courtesy of photostock via Freedigitalphotos.net