Is Gen Z rejecting marriage?

Most young people want to get married—eventually

Canadians are getting married later than ever.
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Today, university undergraduate students are being thrust into an uncertain world. With a grim outlook on future careers for pandemic graduates, stability isn’t anywhere in sight. In the past year, grad school applications in Canada have gone up by 30 per cent in some programs. In a very polarized world, there’s one thing that most young people can agree on: we have no idea what our future holds.  

Fifty years ago, post-grad plans for Canadian undergrads looked different. In the early 1970s, the average age of first marriage was 23 for women and 25 for men. The average age of first birth for women was between 23 and 24. By their mid-20s, most Baby Boomers were married homeowners with children. At the same age, we’re grappling with entry-level jobs, roommates, and grad school. 
 
Over the last five decades, Canadians have been getting married later and later. From 1981 to 2011, the percentage of 25 to 29-year-old Canadians who had never married jumped from 26 per cent to 73 per cent. The average age of marriage in Canada is estimated to be in the early 30s. Between 2000 and 2017, the number of first births between ages 40 and 44 doubled. 
 
Obviously, these statistics are not from our generation. The oldest members of Generation Z are barely in their mid-20s. However, it looks like we’re going to continue the trend
 
There are a lot of proposed reasons as to why young people might not want to get married. Critics say online dating has made us too picky, we’re terrified of divorce, or afraid of commitment. There’s also something to be said about the piles of college debt, the rising cost of housing, and job instability. However, changing social structures are making marriage less of a priority. 
 
Millennials and Gen Z are also increasingly less religious than older generations, making young people less inclined to tie the knot. While fewer and fewer weddings are centred in religious practice, marriage is still a religious institution. An increasing number of less traditional couples don’t believe they need a ceremony to commit to one another. 
 
It’s also become easier for women to not marry if they don’t want to. For generations, it was nearly impossible for most women to comfortably support themselves. Marriage was not just a love contract, but an economic agreement. Women needed the economic support of a man because even if they did choose to work, options were limited and salaries were low. While the wage gap still exists, women can now live a bachelor lifestyle if they choose. 
 
Younger generations are also dating longer. Millennials and Gen Z have embraced casual hookups and date around for years before settling down. Once they finally meet the person they want to marry, they’ll wait around five years before tying the knot. 
 
Despite concern from older generations, young people are finding there are good things about getting married later in life. 
 
While people have been getting married much later, they’ve also been getting divorced less. The divorce rate in Canada peaked in 1987 and has been dropping ever since. Studies say waiting until your 30s to get married lowers your chance of divorce. Some say waiting until your 30s to have children allows people to emotionally mature before they become parents. Going childless in your 20s also allows freedoms—like travelling, staying out late, and taking financial risks—that our grandparents didn’t have. For a generation that’s unsure if they will ever get to retire, a few years of freedom in youth is marked as essential. 
 
Still, most members of Gen Z want to get married—there’s just a lot of other things we hope to do first. A lot of those things are not exactly up to the individual. Wanting a stable job, a home, and finding the right partner isn’t a radical rejection of the institution of marriage, but very real fears about what our future might look like. Ultimately, Gen Z isn’t an anti-traditional or radical generation, it’s simply a cautious one.
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