Thursday, May 2, 2013

Why Get Married?

Did you read this fascinating op-ed in the New York Times? It explains that 80% of people in the United States will marry at some point in their lives, but the reasons for marriage are different than they were in the past. According to the sociologist author, people in the United States are marrying as a status symbol. The author writes,

"It is something young adults do after they and their live-in partners have good jobs and a nice apartment. It has become the capstone experience of personal life...People marry to show their family and friends how well their lives are going...[Marriage] remains an important part of American life -- not in its older role as the first step into adulthood, but in its newer role as the last step one takes after becoming an adult in almost all other respects."

The author goes on to describe widening US wealth inequality and how this affects the demographics of marriage and specifically of childbearing. Unsurprisingly, college educated Americans are getting married after earning at least one degree, they have children within marriage, and their marriages last longer.

In contrast, he writes:  "Non-college-educated adults seem to treat reproduction as mandatory or at least axiomatic, and marriage as more of an optional add-on. Most do eventually marry, although not necessarily to the person they had their first child with."

So tonight, I read the essay to Flavio and asked him why he thinks we chose to marry. His answer:

"Because I love you and you are my family, and I want everyone, including the state, to recognize that. If someone is in the hospital, it's sometimes only family who can see the patient. I'd never want anyone to tell me you're not my family. And if we have to get a piece of paper from the state that says to everyone that you are my family and that we are a team, then that's what I want. We're a team for life." :')

Interestingly, marriage seems to have had positive professional consequences for Flavio. His (married) bosses often ask him about married life and when we'll be having kids. Marriage is a common topic of unity and conversation between Flavio and his superiors. I'm not sure if there's a correlation but he's been promoted twice since we got married. Of course, we all know the discouraging stats that show that married women are still less likely to be promoted and earn less than married men.

We both feel getting married initiates you into a different social group - both professionally and personally. Flavio and I were together for more than a decade before we got married, and neither of us imagined anything would feel any different after marriage. But you know what? Things feel different after marriage - not between us, but in the way people treat us. I can absolutely feel that people take my relationship more seriously when I say my husband as opposed to my boyfriend, even if we were just as committed to each other pre-marriage. Also, a boundary is defined when you're married. Our families of origin seemed to step back and respect the privacy of our relationship, our decisions as a couple and seem less worried about us individuals. And of course there are tax, health insurance and other federal benefits. In our overall experience, most people, including the government, treat you differently after marriage.

For most, marriage is still the ultimate social goal in the United States, and according to the op-ed, now seems to be a status symbol and class marker. You're expected to marry. And just as I don't think parenthood should be expected of everyone, I don't think marriage should be socially expected, either. It is an option, and one that should be available to ALL citizens, but not required of all, nor a social determiner of the legitimacy of your relationship. As Kim Kardashian and others have proven, a marriage contract does not a legitimate relationship make. So, while marriage affords some social benefits, it is the loving, respectful union between two people that is the real gift.

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