For young people, the idea of marriage still holds considerable charm. A 2006 poll showed that more than 80 percent of American high school seniors expect to get married, and 90 percent of those assume they’ll remain wed to the same person for life. A survey of college students in England found 95 percent want to marry. Among adults who have never been married, 61 percent want to be, according to a Pew poll from 2010.
But dreams of marriage are failing to materialize for more and more of these people. In 1960, 72 percent of American adults were married; today, that number has dropped to 51 percent. In 1960, 15 percent had never married; today it’s 28 percent. In 1970, four in five 25-to-29-year-old men were married; now, two in five are.
What’s going on? People want to marry but aren’t. Why?
The reasons are many. But sociologists have identified one that I find of particular interest. It is that today’s men—at least in the eyes of today’s women—aren’t qualified.
Many single men say they would like to be at least equal to if not better than their future spouse in terms of education and earning power. The model of the male breadwinner has a long history, and remnants of it remain ingrained in the minds of many people—both men and women.
The problem is, this ideal is increasingly at odds with reality. As Hanna Rosin writes in her book The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, “The men may cling to traditional ideals about themselves as providers, but they are further than ever from being able to embody those ideals” (emphasis added throughout).
Every year in America, 170,000 more women than men get bachelor’s degrees. And while the average man still earns 10 percent more than the average woman, guess what? Among 20-somethings, women now have the edge in the wage gap. Men who hold the advantage in education and earning power are a dying breed.
The numbers of well-educated, financially self-sufficient women are mushrooming beyond the numbers of men who could be so described. In fact, men are trending in the opposite direction. Today, for example, we see the highest percentage ever recorded of men of prime working age who are not even working: about one in five. One fifth of men. Compare that to 1950, when it was one in 20.
“Recent years have seen an explosion of male joblessness and a steep decline in men’s life prospects that have disrupted the ‘romantic market’ in ways that narrow a marriage-minded woman’s options,” wrote Kate Bolick in the Atlantic. “[I]ncreasingly, her choice is between deadbeats (whose numbers are rising) and playboys (whose power is growing)” (November 2011).
Who will these women marry? The bar for what they want out of marriage is climbing, while the field is regressing.
Unsurprisingly, more and more of them, rather than “marry down,” are resigning themselves to the idea that their best option is just to skip it.
Sure, they’d love to marry if the right man showed up. Yet, in their view—frustrating as it may be that Mr. Right isn’t around—marriage is, ultimately, unnecessary. I can take care of myself—I don’t need a man to support me, the thinking goes. He’d just be another person to take care of—another mouth to feed.
“[A]s women have climbed ever higher, men have been falling behind,” laments Bolick. “We’ve arrived at the top of the staircase, finally ready to start our lives, only to discover a cavernous room at the tail end of a party, most of the men gone already, some having never shown up—and those who remain are leering by the cheese table, or are, you know, the ones you don’t want to go out with.”
The question is on the lips of women everywhere: What’s wrong with all these guys?
Most people can agree there is a problem, but far fewer recognize its full scope. When you talk to the women and meet the men, when you read the stories and look at the data, you begin to realize: Bolick is not describing a minor irritant, or a disappointment that a few women share. She is chronicling the collapse of a social order.
Social historian Stephanie Coontz says we’re experiencing nothing less than “a historical revolution every bit as wrenching, far-reaching, and irreversible as the Industrial Revolution.” As she told the Atlantic, “When it comes to what people actually want and expect from marriage and relationships, and how they organize their sexual and romantic lives, all the old ways have broken down.”
If you examine it, this breakdown in “all the old ways” virtually all traces back to the trashing of the traditional roles of men and of women, particularly that of breadwinner and homemaker. Historically, what largely drove men’s march through the milestones to adulthood was the expectation that they would fulfill the role of provider. For generations, this commonly recognized duty propelled men into the workforce; it often served as a prod to men’s ambition and did much to shape society. Even today, it remains a strong motivation to any young man who accepts it. And women recognized their responsibility to make the home an inviting, nurturing environment for children to be reared toward adulthood.
For two generations now, esteem for these roles has been fading—to the point where today they are ignored, if not treated with contempt.
In dismantling the traditional ways of relating to one another as men and women, society lost more than just human traditions: We arrogantly, foolishly trashed God’s design in creating men and women.
The failings that have resulted vividly illustrate the wisdom in God’s original design—for anyone willing to cast aside the blinders of political correctness and look at the situation honestly.
For the sake of order and harmony, God created men to fulfill one role within the family and within society, and He created women to fill a different and beautifully complementary role. This is the reality that God created and revealed to humankind. It is a vital key to individual, family and societal success.
The reason for marriage is far greater than most people realize. Marriage has an awesome purpose. Doesn’t it make sense to understand its purpose if you plan to marry someday? To learn this purpose, request our free booklet Why Marriage! Soon Obsolete? Not only will it help you understand marriage’s purpose—it will show you why “the old ways” will never die. ▪