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Marriage: Then and Now
New Census figures show more people are waiting longer to marry and having fewer kids.


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Numbers show that marriage has changed in the last 40 years.


Remember the 60’s? Drive-in movie theaters, hot pants, The Beatles and Tang. Okay, so a lot of us don’t remember the 1960’s, but many of us do know that a lot has changed since then. To further prove the point, the U.S. Census Bureau recently released some figures that show some startling differences, especially when it comes to marriage.

For instance, in 1967, the median age to get married for men was 23, and for women it was 20. Fast-forward to 2006—men are now waiting until they’re about 27 and women, around 26. So what’s the deal? Why wait? According to Michael McManus, syndicated columnist and president of MarriageSavers.org, it’s because so many of us are afraid of getting a divorce. "My wife, Harriet, and I married 40 years ago in 1965," McManus says. "At that time, everyone assumed their marriages were for life. There were only about 400,000 divorces a year, but by 1979, there were 1.2 million [divorces], affecting a million children. Those children grew up fearful of marriage, for all they had seen was failure."

Chintimini Keith, 28, would be one of those fearful children. Her parents, she says, had a terrible relationship that ended in divorce when she was young. "I didn’t want this to happen to me," she says. She and her husband, Darin, 34, tied the knot last November after they dated for two years and were engaged for a year and a half. In total, the Keiths knew each other for almost five years before getting married. "As nice as it is to believe in love at first sight, we wanted to make sure it was the real deal," Chintimini says.

Frances Reimers, and her husband Nathan, both 26, are two people who don’t fall in-line with the Census Bureau’s new stats. They’ve been married for three years. "My husband and I are constantly asked why we married so young," Frances says. "We married because we were in love and there was no where else for our relationship to go. I mean, we’d been living together for two years, what else were we going to do?"

Frances thinks that people marry for different reasons now than they did 40 years ago. "I believe people marry now out of choice," she says. "No longer are people bound by traditional family or religious standards."

Chintimini thinks it could be a combination of things. "It’s the idea of having a fun, full life in your 20s, and 30s in some cases, getting established in your career, and then finding your soul mate," she says.

Another interesting stat from the Census Bureau showed that the average American family is shrinking in size. In 1967, the average American household consisted of 3.3 people, while the 2006 figure is 2.6. That’s almost an entire person.

"There’s absolutely no need in this day and age to have more than two kids," Frances says.

Chintimini agrees. "For one, we have great methods of birth control. Two, we no longer need big families to work on farms and help actually run the family. And three, we can’t afford that many children anymore," she says. Chintimini thinks today’s couples want to experience more before having children, such as traveling and buying bigger homes. "Add to that a couple of college tuition bills, weddings and all of the other expenses that come along with kids and you’ll see why people are having fewer [children]."

"People think they need new cars, a vacation home and a large home," McManus says. He believes stay-at-home moms have become a rare breed, which the Census Bureau numbers seem to agree with—showing an increasing number of women in the workforce to 59 percent, up from 41 percent in 1967.

Whatever the reasons, the numbers don’t lie. Marriage has changed a lot in 40 years and who knows what it will look like 40 years in the future. Perhaps in 2046, a writer will start a column with the words, "Remember 2006? iPods, terrorism, lots of young single people and no kids…"


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