Arizonans not in a rush to the altar

Photo credit: Albert Palmer. Used under Creative Commons 2.0
Photo credit: Albert Palmer. Used under Creative Commons 2.0

Kathy’s lease was up. After nearly two years of dating, she moved in with her boyfriend Chris to cut expenses.

Chris Florko and Kathy Chajkowski have been living together for 16 years now and marriage wasn’t a goal of theirs until recently when she decided she wanted to go back to school. Florko, who works at University of Arizona’s IT team, said they’re getting married for practical reasons, in this case to save on tuition.

“I don’t think marriage means that much when most marriages end in divorce,” said Florko.

A Pew Research Center analysis of Census data shows that one-in-five American adults over the age of 25 has never been married, a historic high for the country. People in Arizona and all over the country are delaying getting married to focus on their education and individual achievements on top of the increase in cohabiting relationships.

The term ‘never married’ does not always mean single. The increase in couples cohabiting and even raising kids outside of marriage has had an impact on those marriage rates going down. Melissa Curran, professor and researcher at the University of Arizona’s Family Studies and Human Development department, said “many folks still see the point of getting married and value it, but behavioral trends show different results.”

“Very often these people cohabiting don’t even choose to live together,” said Curran. “Many of them just ‘slide’ into a cohabiting relationship without making a conscious decision.” She also mentioned this can be due to the lack of strict rules of cohabitation and a disagreement as to what qualifies as living together and what doesn’t.

Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project, mentioned that some research suggests couples who cohabit without an engagement, a public declaration of their commitment to each other, are less likely to do well in their cohabitation compared to married couples, even if they end up getting married eventually. “Cohabiting couples often have different reasons to live together,” said Dr. Wilcox. “He might want to save rent and she might want to prepare for marriage. Once they come to grips with the fact that they’re in two different pages when it comes to the relationship, things can start to fall apart quickly.”

The Pew Research study also found that Americans are delaying the age they marry for the first time. The median age of Americans’ first marriage is 27 for women and 29 for men, compared to 20 and 23 back in 1960.

“Young people are delaying marriage to continue getting a higher education,” said Curran. She also said the increasing competitiveness of the job market has made young people focus much more on opportunities and individualism.

Francis Rosas, 25, thought she would be married by the time she was 23. She has been with her partner Ricardo, 26, for three years and they’ve been living together for one.

“I always knew I wanted to get married and have kids,” said Rosas. “I just pushed it back to focus on my goals and my career. We both want to accomplish many things before we take that step.”

These trends in cohabitation and marriage are likely to continue, but it’s important to consider the impact it could have on society.
Children, for example, are growing up in increasingly diverse households. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing,  Curran says research continuously shows that children raised in households that have parents in constant relationships do better than those that do not.

“Kids really need routines and stability,” says Curran. Cohabiting relationships can offer both of those things, but research has found that “cohabiting couples who have a child together are about twice as likely as married couples to break up before their child turns 12.”

In addition, women are delaying the age they start having children. This trend is even stronger in highly educated women, according to Wilcox.

“The biology of childbearing has not caught up with the trends in age people marry,” said Curran. This has resulted in more high-risk pregnancies.

On top of that, Curran said having children has become much more of an ‘if’ question instead of ‘when’. “Things that used to be important for young adults just aren’t anymore,” said Curran.

In fact, getting married and becoming a parent came at the top of the list of things students said were “not important” to participants when asked about their life goals in a study by Joyce Serido, a University of Arizona professor and researcher,and Soyeon Shim, researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Many friends have told Florko “if you’re serious, put a ring on it!” He thinks otherwise. “The relationship I am in is in many ways much stronger than a marriage. We’re together because we choose to be together every day, instead of being legally or religiously bound to do so.”

Gabriela Diaz is a reporter for the Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona. Reach her at gabriieladiiaz@email.arizona.edu.

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