It’s that time of the year again. The weather’s turning pleasant, the birds are chipper, and love is in the air, isn’t it? To think that I would pick such an unromantic topic in such uplifting times! But not until recently did marriage have anything to do with love, and it seems that the circle’s turning again. With more and more millennials expressly rejecting the institution, the question is real – is Love Marriage dying a silent death?
The History of Marriage
Anthropological studies reveal that pair-bonding began in the Stone Age to enable a stable structure for rearing the young. The first recorded evidence of a ceremony dates back to the Mesopotamian era. Polygamy and bride-prices were the norms, polygyny was rare. The practices persisted for almost the entirety of the modern human history. Marriage was a social tool for stability, financial ease, and for organization and control of sexual behavior in the society. The royalty married strategically to forge alliances, acquire new territories, and produce heirs. In fact, the word matrimony is derived from the Latin word Mater (meaning Mother).
Introduction of Love to the Mix
It may not be as obvious to the Westerners, where the philosophy of marriage went a sea change over the last couple of centuries. But, in our Indian society, the remnants of the original construct have lingered in the form of ‘arranged marriages’. The influence of caste, religion, community, and financial status is still significant in an Indian marriage. Needless to say, it is easy to understand that love, often, has nothing to do with the traditional institution. Even in the Western world, romance became part of the mix as late as the 18th century, when the Enlightenment thinkers preached the ‘pursuit of happiness’ over the material. This was followed by the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the middle class – who wanted to marry for reasons of the heart, rather than reasons of the elusive buck.
The idea traveled to India as late as the mid-late 20th century, when romance started getting a credible pedestal among other criteria. Bollywood helped propagate the philosophy of romance over all else. But, the movement was slow and almost imperceptible. Even in the 21st Century, only the urban educated populace in the nation gives primary credence to romance in matrimonial alliances. Obviously, when romance became the most important parameter, people chose to end unhappy alliances – leading to the rise of divorces.
The Millennial Angle
Let’s cut to the chase and talk about the future guardians of the institution – the Millennials. Here is the thing, the Millennials are not getting married. A 2014 Gallup study showed that only 16% of the 18-29-year-olds are married across the globe. The median age at first marriage is now 27 for women and 29 for men — up from 20 for women and 23 for men in 1960. The Marriage rate is the lowest in the last four generations – below 70% today, as against 82% among GenXers and 91% among Baby Boomers. This time India has caught on quickly, thanks to the Information Age and the seamless exchange of global ideas via the Social Media.
The millennials are not rejecting Love. In fact, there is an upsurge in the need to connect at a more human level, and to have consensual sex. But, they are a generation in continuous flux who seem to struggle with the idea of long-term commitments. They are the Tinder generation.
To be fair to them, the Global Recession and War against Terror have been their most pivotal experiences. It is hard for them to make plans that would see fruition more than half a decade in the future. They want instant gratification, understandably, given how transient resources have appeared to them. Plus, it was the era of ‘love marriages’ that demonstrated the efficacy of many different types of family constructs for child rearing – the single parent, same-sex parents, foster families, adoptive parents among others. This meant that the crux of a traditional marriage – that it is imperative for child-rearing- was a myth! That was the beginning of a long downward slide for marriage.
Hypergamy is a social science terminology for the act or practice of a person marrying another of higher caste or social status than themselves, aka ‘marrying up’. Millennials seem disillusioned with the role of love in matrimonial alliances. But, the tax and legal frameworks in almost all nations are still oriented to favor the married. So is the religious opinion on the matter. So, now, the Millennials are re-looking at marriages through the lens of financial stability rather than romantic fervor. Given that most Millennials opine that they would not marry before 40, it makes sense that they give credence to the practical tenets of the union, rather than the chemical ones.
If you recall, Hypergamy has always been one of the leading influencers in traditional marriage – with the ‘fairer sex’ choosing to ‘marry up’ with a price paid for the communion. There has been a twist in the tale now – a by-product of the women’s emancipation movement. Studies reveal that now men are more likely to participate in hypergamy than women – given that the educated woman has rejected the Alpha Male stereotype.
The gist of the matter is that Millennial folks of all genders are more likely to marry later in their lives, if at all, for more practical reasons than love. It is not a loss for love or for marriage, but the construct that a happy family consists of a ‘man and a woman in the holy communion’. The Millennials have figured that man is forever alone, together, and there is no right way to be a family.
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