In people’s minds, love and marriage relationships have been deeply associated with wellbeing and happiness. For a long time, many women and some men thought that marriage would bring them happiness in life. Yet, something unexpected occurred by the end of the 20th century.

Cultural Evolution of Marriage in the Second Half of the 20th Century

The cultural evolution of marriage and family since the middle of the late 20th century has been surprising for many people. Many social scientists did not anticipate these changes in marital relationships that occurred in many European and North American countries. 

In these and other modern Western societies, the “golden age of marriage” of the 1950s and 1960s brought to life the cultural ideologies of “love marriage” and “sexual revolution.”

As a result of cultural progress in relationships, women and men in love marriages should presumably become happier. Yet, the unpredictable evolution of marriage in the late 20th century reversed those romantic cultural ideals.

What Happened with Marriage and Family in the Late 20th Century?

In the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, many dramatic changes occurred in marital and family relationships, both in positive and negative ways. Marriage became less popular among both men and women. Many significantly delayed their decisions to marry. Marriages became shorter-lived and ended in divorce.

Some simply did not wish to get married at all. Alternatives to marriage, such as cohabitation, have become common. Living together but not officially getting married became a frequent practice. Many men and women no longer consider marriage to be necessary in order to conceive, become pregnant, and have a child.

In the late 20th century, the cultural evolution of marriage led to a different model of parenthood. Many women postponed giving birth to a child and waited even later to get married. Unmarried women were more favorable for childbearing. Couples wanted fewer children.

Many men did not want to marry and take on marital and family responsibilities. They liked having relationships with women, but they didn’t want to be as emotionally or financially involved. They preferred to enjoy the pleasures of romantic relationships without commitments and obligations.

Thus, the cultural model of love-based marriage that triumphed as a socially normative value and practice in the 1950s and 1960s waned at the end of the 20th century. The value of marriage and family as love unions faded while the value of singlehood grew in the minds of many men and women in Western modernized societies.

Why Modern Men and Women Prefer to Be Single

According to recent data from the Pew Research Center (2019), more Americans than ever before are single. About half of all Americans are single. And nearly three out of ten adult Americans are not in a committed relationship.

They live with a partner in a committed or not-committed relationship without being married. About half of those singles said they were not looking for a relationship and not interested in dating. Many are perfectly happy to stay that way.

Meanwhile, simply looking at marriage rates reveals that the number of singles is even higher. According to the United States Census Bureau, approximately half of all American adults, or approximately 127 million people, are unmarried. Those singles are an interesting bunch. Some people have never married. Some are divorced, while others are widowed. They are either older or younger. Some of them are parents. Others do not have children. All of these factors, as well as many others, may influence how people perceive singlehood.

So, the questions arise:

  • Whether the old belief that “marriage is important for happiness” is not valid anymore.
  • And whether single men and women can be no less happy than married ones

“What makes some people happy with singlehood while others are not?”

Victor Karandashev

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