By Special Contributor Don Macleod.
We’ve all seen a movie about high-powered corporate type who joins a big company and meets the boss at a corporate function. To impress the boss, he shakes his hand and then gestures to the appropriately gown-glad woman at his side, and says, “May I introduce my lovely wife, sir.”
Why? I suppose there is a certain legitimacy that comes with having made that level of commitment to the right woman. It gives the impression that you’re stable and reliable, and that you’ve made a deliberate choice in life. It shows you’ve earned another person’s trust in a meaningful way. And isn’t it true that behind every great man is a great woman – and vice versa?
For a while there, the institution of marriage really took a beating. Depending on who was slamming it, they might say it was as outdated, misogynist, or a man-trap. They might say it was just a piece of paper, and point to a divorce rate as high or higher than 50% in some jurisdictions.
Things are changing, though, and the changes are huge. According to the Institute for Family Studies, the divorce rate in the United States is the lowest it has been in the past 50 years. It‘s even lower now than it was in 1970, before divorce became socially acceptable on a wide scale. That’s great news.
But it comes with a twist. The rate of people who actually get married in the first place is lower than it has ever been before.
In its simplest terms, that means that fewer people are getting married, but those who are getting married are staying married.
So who are these brave souls willing to take the plunge? Statistically, they are middle and upper-income and college-educated. This is commonly called the marriage divide, and it’s a divide that’s only getting bigger.
Family researchers and sociologists cite various reasons for this, many of them rooted in economic and social disparity. That’s definitely part of it. Age is another factor, since most successful marriages tend to happen between people who marry in their late twenties to early thirties.
Yet irrespective of economic standing or post-secondary education, it’s also—perhaps primarily—a matter of personal choice. You don’t need a college degree or a fat paycheck to get married and stay married. Rich or poor, people around the world have been making it work for ages.
I think marriage has undergone a transition for many people—a sort of “everything old is new again” where it’s gone out of fashion and now come back into fashion. For many people, that gold wedding band is the perfect accessory to one’s social wardrobe, and reflects a personal lifestyle choice.
I’ve asked newly married people, those who don’t yet have kids, why they chose marriage, and these are some of the answers I received:
“I think marriage adds a level of commitment to being together. And yes, it feels good to say I’m married.”
“I wouldn’t have a child with someone unless they’d made that kind of commitment to me. I don’t want to be a single parent, and I don’t want my children to live in a broken home.”
“I think it’s cheesy when a guy over thirty introduces his ‘girlfriend.’ I didn’t want to be that guy.”
“My parents were never married and it always felt kind of weird. Everyone always asked them, ‘so when are you going to make it official?’ I didn’t want that for me or my kids. I wanted to show the world it was real.”
So there you have it. Is marriage a status symbol? Putting aside the larger economic and social factors, and simply asking the question of those individuals who do choose to marry, it would appear that, yes, for many people it is a status symbol. It’s a symbol of personal choice, one that shows the world what kind of life you want for yourself and your children.
If you are married and struggling, it’s also all the more reason to do everything you can to save your marriage—and to make it a marriage worth saving—before moving on. I hope you’ll find resources on this site that can help you do that.
– Don Macleod is an international relationship author-expert. Visit his wife Debra Macleod’s homepage for more articles & options for online help.