This article highlights current and historical marital patterns, beginning with an overview of fluctuating age-related marital norms, followed by the 1950s marriage "ideal," including generational themes, misconceptions, and divorce configurations. The struggles faced by the homosexual community in their attempts to marry are covered, followed by international discrepancies that exist between "arranged" and "choice" marriages. A conclusion sums up contemporary marital themes as diverse and ever-changing.
In examining the average age of marriage throughout the latter half of the twentieth and into the early twenty-first century, one might conclude that US citizens have steadily delayed their commitment to matrimonial unions. Indeed, in both 1950 and 1960 the mean age for marriage among men and women was 22.8 and 20.3 respectively, numbers that progressively mounted to 28.2 and 26.1 by the year 2010 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011). There are many theoretical explanations that account for wedding postponement, such as the fact that the United States is becoming a "graying society," one that is becoming significantly older due in part to innovative health advancements that have helped prolong life. These twentieth-century technological developments include internal pacemakers (Altman, 2002), artificial heart implants ("Engineering," 2001), and stem cell research (Barry, 2008), as well as screening procedures such as fMRI scanners (Gengler, 2008) and routine Pap smear procedures (Oliver, 2002) that detect the presence of early-onset cancerous lesions from proliferating. Additionally, although Americans are often highlighted as a nation "at-risk" for such health problems as obesity (Marks, 2004), other patterns have contributed toward positive outcomes, such as an overall decreased use of tobacco ("Some Wins," 2008). These health-related changes have helped ensure the prolonged longevity of most Americans; for example, the life expectancy of an American in 1900 was 47.3 years of age, a number that rose to 68.2 years in 1950, and to 78.6 years in 2011 (World Bank, 2013). Hence, this suggests that from both practical and psychological standpoints, the longer a person has to live, the longer he or she has to defer marriage.
Additionally, since commencement of the women's rights movement, which took place in the 1960s and 1970s, women have entered into educational and work forces in greater numbers than ever before ("Women's Work," 2002). Such a movement countered the 1950s stereotype that relegated women into roles of domesticity in which their primary focus was to bolster the lifestyles of their husbands, children, and households (Shute, 2007). As women began joining the workforce in increasing numbers, the institution of marriage likewise morphed, and marital bonds became less hierarchical and promoted independence and self-sufficiency among both husbands and wives. This newfound autonomous structure prompted a delay in marriage, since men and women alike were investing in prenuptial educational and career pursuits prior to forging marital alliance; an enterprise that endorses at least some semblance of interdependency.
A common misconception pertaining to American marriages is that that there is a direct correlation between the advancement of time and increased marital age. While this trend holds true throughout the last sixty years, it is certainly not a conventional, historical representation of American culture. For example, the following table offers a glimpse into the mean age at first marriage for men and women in the United States between the years 1890 and 2010 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011):
Year: Male: Female: 1890 26.1 22.0 1900 25.9 21.9 1910 25.1 21.6 1920 24.6 21.2 1930 24.3 21.3 1940 24.3 21.5 1950 22.8 20.3 1960 22.8 20.3 1970 23.2 20.8 1980 24.7 22.0 1990 26.1 23.9 2000 26.8 25.1 2010 28.2 26.1
The 1950s Mythology
From the data in the above table, it appears that the young ages for 1950s first marriages were actually an incongruous glitch that was perhaps related to unique, large-scale factors stemming from a variety of international dynamics. A likely influence was the fact that a flourishing economy and collective postwar relief following World War II led many young couples to settle down and establish families early. Many family patterns established themselves at the end of the war, most notably the initiation of the "baby boom" generation (Doyle, 2005), in which the birth rate soared to exceptionally high levels. A strong economy and the significant remuneration that many men received for serving in the military via the GI Bill (Leepson, 2007) allowed households to subsist on a solitary income, giving birth to that era's normative family composition of the stay-at-home wife/mother and the breadwinning husband/father.
Chasing the American Dream
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