Is Marriage Obsolete?

Has the institution of marriage outlived its usefulness?
Has the institution of marriage outlived its usefulness?

On the heels of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s engagement announcement, Time magazine has published a major story on the status of marriage in general. One of the key themes is that marriage as an institution has changed so much that it’s becoming obsolete.

There’s still plenty of research that shows being married is good for you. But it’s no longer essential to be married to achieve other major life goals. Both men and women can have fulfilling careers, financial security, safety, love, sex, companionship and even kids, without ever taking on the mantle of marriage.

Yet most of us still marry. What keeps bringing us to the altar?

For a lot of people, it’s parenthood.

Lisa Belkin from Motherlode points out that while nearly half the people in Time‘s survey said marriage is obsolete, three quarters said raising kids is best done within a marriage.

We’re not practicing what we preach, though: 41% of 2008’s babies were born to unmarried mothers. Most of those women have partners who are either co-parents or at least supportive, involved adults in the kids’ lives. Only 25% of kids live in single-parent homes, and even in those cases joint custody has become pretty much the norm.

So a lot of couples are having and raising kids, no marriage required. Yet the cultural assumption that marriage and baby carriages go together is hard to shake.

My husband and I got married shortly after we found out we were expecting a slightly-sooner-than-we’d-planned baby. Our hurried ceremony was partly a practical matter: we wanted to share health insurance, and buy a house, and protect our kids’ inheritance rights in the event something tragic happened. All of that is easier when you’re married.

But it was also a way of expressing shared commitment to the project of parenting together. We wanted to make a family, and being married seemed like a way of cementing that intention.

Why did you get married, or choose not to? Do you think marriage is really better for kids, or is it an obsolete institution?

Photo: Franco Follini

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