By: Avery Phillips
We definitely need to talk some more about the slew of time-honored traditions millennials are destroying, so let’s dig into the latest: millennials vs. marriage.
While they aren’t doing away with marriage entirely, we are certainly changing its landscape. Factors like alternative work situations, changing views around gender norms, and a lesser focus on raising a family contributes to a decreased interest in getting married right away.
But there’s another reason many millennials are opting out of marriage: We can’t afford it. Crippling student loan debt, stress about buying homes, and a general lack of money management skills often make it difficult for couples to feel secure enough to enter into marriage.
Student loans place a massive weight on a huge number of college graduates, making it difficult for us to have enough money to do, well, much of anything (including get married). When debt burdens individuals, it also burdens the greater economy as a whole.
Shame and worry around debt is also a contributing factor. It’s common for them to avoid or delay marriage because we don’t want to burden a spouse with student loan debt. The reverse is true, too. Loan-free partners may shy away from marrying a partner with loans for fear of taking on their debt.
While a great number of millennials have student loans, acquiring the skills for managing student loan debt is a crucial step that’s too often overlooked. How does interest work? Should I refinance my loans? What am I actually agreeing to when I sign this paper? They actually don’t know the answers to these questions.
This lack of critical financial education with a focus on how student loans actually work leads to many millennials struggling to repay their debt, and therefore having less money to take steps toward financial security, home ownership, and marriage.
Buying a Home
Buying a home is likely one of the largest purchases a person will make in their lifetime. It’s a huge financial and lifestyle commitment with a lot of knowledge and expertise required to do it right. Anyone thinking about settling down needs to closely examine their circumstances to decide if they’re ready to buy a home.
Questions like “Do you have enough savings for a downpayment?,” “Are you likely to change jobs in the near future?,” and “Can you commit to this house for at least five years?” often scare millennials away from pursuing home ownership.
And as more and more millennials pursue location-independent work that may or may not provide a steady paycheck, settling down and buying a house is often unappealing or simply out of reach.
Poor money management skills, coupled with student loan debt, make it difficult for young couples to afford buying a home, which is often seen as a life milestone that goes hand-in-hand with marriage. Millennials generally want to feel secure and established in life before getting married. If buying a home feels like an unattainable goal, chances are getting married will have to wait as well.
A New Normal?
Changing cultural and social norms also affect how they view marriage and why we can’t afford it (or choose to spend our money in other ways). We work differently. We date differently. We have different ideas about what our futures will look like.
Alternatives to the 9-5 grind are very popular . Freelancers, entrepreneurs, employees of startups, and part-time workers sometimes can’t rely on a steady and stable income. Many of them piece together side hustles instead of having one main career path and often can’t depend on a regular paycheck. Lack of a regular paycheck often means struggle paying student loans, no home buying, and no marriage.
Changing views around social and gender roles also contribute to the relationship between millennials and marriage. Raising children is no longer seen as the centering goal of a marriage, and the traditional roles of men and women in marriage are evolving as some millennials work toward breaking through the sexism that’s often pervasive in traditional marriages.
The hot topic of gay marriage plays in here too. Many heterosexual couples decided to boycott marriage until the LGBTQ community was granted the right to marry, therefore decreasing marriages rates for them. Others decided that the institution of marriage was too patriarchal and government-oriented to be bothered with at all.
Marriages today don’t look like what they did 50 years ago. And that’s OK. Millennials who do get married often opt for DIY weddings instead of the elaborate and expensive affairs that are traditional of the institution. Men are stay-at-home dads while women are the main breadwinners for the family. Things are different than they used to be.
Statistics show that they aren’t uninterested in marriage; we’re simply delaying it. So perhaps we’re not destroying the institution of marriage, but simply redefining it.