Skip to comments.Why Men Won't Commit: Men's Atitudes About Sex, Dating and Marriage
Posted on 10/22/2002 11:24:51 AM PDT by shrinkermd
(Preface and Explanation)A special essay on young, not-yet married mens attitudes on the timing of marriage finds that men experience few social pressures to marry, gain many of the benefits of marriage by cohabiting with a romantic partner, and are ever more reluctant to commit to marriage in their early adult years.
Available evidence on marriage trends over the past four decades indicates that marriage has declined dramatically as a first living together experience for couples and as a status of parenthood. However, in recent years, there are signs that some marriage-weakening trends are slowing or in some cases leveling off.
Marriage has been much in the news lately, but we hear little about the actual state of marriage. How is marriage faring in American society today? Is it becoming stronger or weaker? Sicker or healthier? Better or worse?
Answers to these questions from official sources have been hard to come by. The federal government issues thousands of reports on nearly every dimension of American life, from what we eat to how many hours we commute each day. But it provides no annual index or report on the state of marriage. Indeed, the National Center for Health Statistics, the federal agency responsible for collecting marriage and divorce data from the states, has scaled back this activity. As a consequence, this important data source has deteriorated. Neither the Congress nor the President has ever convened a bipartisan commission or study group to investigate and report on the state of contemporary marriage. And no private agency, academic institution or private foundation has stepped forward to take on the task of monitoring the indices of marital health.
The neglect of marriage is all the more remarkable because mating and marrying behavior has changed dramatically in recent decades. Although some measures of these changes, such as the rise in unwed childbearing, have been duly noted, discussed and monitored, the state of marriage itself has been slighted. Why this is so remains a great puzzle. Marriage is a fundamental social institution. It is central to the nurture and raising of children. It is the "social glue" that reliably attaches fathers to children. It contributes to the physical, emotional and economic health of men, women and children, and thus to the nation as a whole. It is also one of the most highly prized of all human relationships and a central life goal of most Americans. Knowledge about marriage is especially important to the younger generation of men and women, who grew up in the midst of the divorce revolution in the 1970s and 1980s, and are now approaching their prime marrying years. Without some sense of how marriage is faring in America today, the portrait of the nations social health is incomplete.
The National Marriage Project seeks to fill in this missing feature in our portrait of the nations social health with The State of Our Unions. The report is divided into two sections. The first section is an essay in a continuing series devoted to exploring the attitudes toward mating and marrying among todays not-yet-married young. The second section includes what we consider the most important annually or biennially updated indicators related to marriage, divorce, unmarried cohabitation, loss of child centeredness, fragile families with children and teen attitudes about marriage and family. For each area, a key finding is highlighted. These indicators are updated annually and provide opportunities for fresh appraisals each June.
We have used the latest and most reliable data available. We cover the period from 1960 to the present, so these data reflect historical trends over several decades. Most of the data come from the United States Bureau of the Census. All of the data were collected by long established and scientifically reputable institutions that rely on nationally representative samples.
Key Points and Executive Summary
The mating and marrying behavior of todays young single men is a topic of growing interest in the popular culture and among young women. To a large degree, this popular interest reflects the delay in the age of first marriage. Both men and women are putting off marriage until older ages. The median age of first marriage for men has reached 27, the oldest age in the nations history. (The median age for women stands at 25.) However, it is men more often than women who are accused of being "commitment phobic" and dragging their feet about marriage. Our investigation of male attitudes indicates that there is evidence to support this popular view.
The men in this study express a desire to marry and have children sometime in their lives, but they are in no hurry. They enjoy their single life and they experience few of the traditional pressures from church, employers or the society that once encouraged men to marry. Moreover, the sexual revolution and the trend toward cohabitation offer them some of the benefits of marriage without its obligations. If this trend continues, it will not be good news for the many young women who hope to marry and bear children before they begin to face problems associated with declining fertility.
The ten reasons why men wont commit are:
1. They can get sex without marriage more easily than in times past
2. They can enjoy the benefits of having a wife by cohabiting rather than marrying
3. They want to avoid divorce and its financial risks
4. They want to wait until they are older to have children
5. They fear that marriage will require too many changes and compromises
6. They are waiting for the perfect soul mate and she hasnt yet appeared
7. They face few social pressures to marry
8. They are reluctant to marry a woman who already has children
9. They want to own a house before they get a wife
10. They want to enjoy single life as long as they can
About This Study
For the past three years, as part of its Next Generation Program, The National Marriage Project has been conducting research into the attitudes toward dating, mate selection and marriage among young, unmarried adults. Last year, we reported on the results of a national survey of young men and women, ages 20 to 29. This year, we take a closer look at a select group of young, heterosexual, not-yet-married men.
As a first step toward understanding male attitudes about marriage and their timing of entry into first marriage, we conducted focus group discussions among not-yet-married heterosexual men in four major metropolitan areas: northern New Jersey, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Houston. The participants, sixty men in all, came from a variety of religious, ethnic and family backgrounds.
These men range in age from 25-33. The majority are employed full-time, with reported annual incomes between $21-$35,000 and above. Most have had some college or hold a baccalaureate degree or better. No one reports ever being married. Three of the men have a child.
This report highlights key findings from this preliminary study. These findings are impressionistic and exploratory but they provide valuable leads for further research into changing male patterns in the timing and commitment to marriage.
The Unsettled Life
For the young men in these groups, the early adult years are a time of insecure job and residential attachment.
More than half report having changed jobs in the past five years, and twelve said they had been laid off or unemployed during that same time period.
Living arrangements also tend to be fluid and unstable. The men report a variety of living arrangements since leaving the parental home. It is common for a young man to shift from sharing an apartment with roommates to cohabiting with a girlfriend to moving back in with one or both parents and then, perhaps, leaving home and living on his own again. A couple of the men moved back home to help a parent who was sick or recently widowed, and at least one moved back into the parental home because his parents said they would "do everything" for him.
Compared to work or living situations, friendships tend to be a source of more secure and stable attachments. Many of the male participants say they hang out and socialize with friends they have known since their high school or college days. These friendship groups can be male-only or can include women friends as well. These groups go out to clubs, bars, sports events, or spend time together in private apartments.
Men say that they meet women in a variety of ways: through friends; at bars, clubs and Happy Hours; at work; and through casual encounters at the gym or the grocery store. When and where men meet women influences their expectations for a relationship. They view the women they meet in bars and dance clubs as casual sex partners rather than as "marriage material." According to the men, the common and mutual understanding between men and women is that bars are for sexual hookups. "When you meet a girl in a bar, theyre the worst . . . twenty different guys have hit on them already." Clearly, the amount of alcohol consumed is a factor, as is the time of day. For example, when men get together with women during the "happy hour," after work, they may be meeting in a bar, but they engage in a different kind of socializing. They are likely to be in the company of friends and to drink less. Consequently, a woman they meet in a bar after work might be someone they would be interested in for more than casual sex.
In general, a time and place that is conducive to a conversation with a woman is more likely to lead to something more than casual sex, they say. However, several men said that they felt awkward striking up a conversation with a woman. "Its damn hard to get the courage to go up and talk to someone," one man admitted. Some say that it is easier to get to know a woman if they are introduced by friends. And they are also more likely to contemplate a serious romantic relationship with a woman they meet through mutual friends.
Men are generally opposed to having a romantic relationship with a woman who works in their place of employment. If you break up, they say, "shes on the other side of the cubicle."
The Internet is an increasingly accepted and popular way to find romantic partners. Some men say that it is good way to generate a high number of prospective candidates. However, no one reported achieving a long-term relationship as the result of an Internet contact, and several commented that deception and misrepresentation were commonplace.
The men say that they rarely ask women out on a date. "Thats the old way," one man commented. "Ill meet them and well just hang out," one man said. Some contend that women dont want to be asked out on a formal date because the women themselves are
not ready to be in a serious relationship. Generally, men hold the view that you should become friends and get to know each other by hanging out before you go out on a date.
Men are divided over the question of who should pay for a date. Most believe that men should pay if they are the ones who ask for the date. However, others think that it is acceptable to split the costs of a night out or let her pick up the check occasionally. "Why shouldnt you both pay?" one man asked, "You both work." Another commented: "Sometimes a woman wants to pay, so she can feel a little independent."
The Big Turnoffs
Men expect the women they date to be economically independent and able to "take care of themselves." This represents a major change from earlier times. Moreover, this expectation figures in one of the most common dating complaints among these men. They resent being evaluated on the size of their wallet, their possessions or their earning potential. Therefore, they say, they are turned off by "golddiggers. " Likewise, they avoid "material girls," women who are into "the big house and car."
A woman who wants a baby is another dating turn-off for these men. They fear that she might use them to achieve her goal of having a child and even to "trick" them into fathering a child.
These men also say that they try to avoid going out with women who already have children. Some say they are uncomfortable in the presence of a womans children and not eager to be thrust into the role of a play "daddy." Moreover, they feel bad if they establish a relationship with the children and then break up with their mother. Finally, they want to avoid competition and conflict with the childrens biological father. One man says that it is easier to date a woman with children if the father is entirely "out of the picture."
Sex for Fun and Fear of Paternity
Half of unmarried men, ages 20-29, agree that there are people with whom they would have sex even though they have no interest in marrying them, according to last years Gallup survey commissioned by The National Marriage Project. More than half of unmarried men, 20-29, agree that if two people really like each other, its all right to have sex even if they have known each other only for a short time. Although young men are more likely to hold these views than young women, there is widespread agreement about the prevalence of casual sex in todays youthful dating culture. Among all young adults, 20-29, eight in ten agree that it is common for people in their age group to have sex just for fun without any expectation of commitment. This view is more strongly held by those with higher levels of educational attainment.
However, once they have casual sex, men say, they are less respectful and interested in pursuing a relationship with a woman. "If a girl wants it on the first night we go out, I definitely lose respect for her, cause shes probably doing it with someone else." They are more likely to "take it slow" sexually when they are romantically interested in a woman. Again, this is consistent with the Gallup survey. Seventy-four percent of single men agreed that if you meet someone with whom you think you could have a long-term relationship, you will try to postpone sex until you know each other. Apparently, "waiting" for sex typically means holding off until the fourth or fifth date, though one man said he waited seven months. At the same time, some men expressed the opinion that it was up to the woman to hold them in check. "Well always push for more," one said.
Men realize that casual sex places them at risk for STDS, including HIV, and also at risk for unplanned fatherhood. Their concern about "diseases" and pregnancy is further heightened because a significant number admit that they dont use condoms every time they have sex.
For some, the risk of unwanted fatherhood arouses more worry than the risk of disease. With DNA testing, it is now possible to establish biological paternity beyond a reasonable doubt and thus to hold men legally responsible for the financial support of any child they father. These young men express concern of "spending my life connected to someone Im not in love with." They worry that a woman who got pregnant after casual sex might deny them the opportunity to get to know and bond with a child whom they are nonetheless legally required to support. Moreover, they are concerned about the financial burden associated with unwed and unplanned fatherhood. "For eighteen years, its like $70,000 or $100,000 dollars," one man remarked. Their anxiety is greatest when it concerns the risk of pregnancy that might occur as the result of a one-night stand. As one man put it: "If its a girl I just met in a bar, I used to wake up in a cold sweat worrying about pregnancy."
Some men express resentment toward a legal system that grants women the unilateral right to decide to terminate a pregnancy or to have a child without any say-so from the biological father. There is also mistrust of women who may "trap" men into fathering a child by claiming to be sterilized, infertile or on the pill and then to exploit his resources in order to have and rear a child "of her own."
At the same time, these men are generally accepting of the social trend of women having children "on their own." "I could deal with a woman using a sperm donor a lot better than I could deal with a messed up marriage," one man remarked.
Cohabitation is a common and popular form of romantic partnership for young adults today. Slightly more than 44 percent of single men, 20-29, agree with the statement that they would only marry someone if she agreed to live together first. Close to a third of the men in this study say that they have lived with someone in the past or are currently cohabiting with a girlfriend.
There are several reasons why men say that they choose to live with girlfriends. One is to test compatibility for marriage. They believe that living together is a good way to get to know a woman intimately, since "its the little things" that can wreck a marriage.
Another reason has to do with the convenience of having a regular sex partner. Living with a woman reduces the risks of sex with a stranger. Men believe that they can dispense with condoms if they are in a monogamous living together relationship. Moreover, they can avoid the time-consuming effort of searching for a sex partner when they have one living at home.
Also, there are economies of scale associated with shared living. One man commented on how helpful it was to have a girlfriend who could look after the house, pay the bills and take care of the dogs when his work took him away from home for extended periods of time. Several others noted that they were better able to save for the purchase of a house if they lived together. For some, this economy was associated with shared plans for future marriage, or at least, future joint home ownership. For others, buying a house was part of the try-out for marital compatibility. "If the house works out, then maybe well talk marriage," one man said.
Moreover, for some men, cohabitation is desirable because they are less answerable to their partner. "We have an interesting relationship," said one cohabiting man. "I come and go as I please . . . as long as she understands, were together . . Its the same as being married. Were totally happy."
Finally, these men see living together as a way of avoiding an unhappy marriage and eventual divorce. This view is widely shared among people their age. Sixty-two percent of young adults agree that living with someone before marriage is a good way to avoid eventual divorce, according to last years Gallup survey for the National Marriage Project. "Everyone I know whos gotten married quickly and failed to live together [first] has gotten divorced," one man said. Another commented: "It should be a law, you should move in together and have a one year trial period. Then you have to wait another year before you have kids."
Many men also fear the financial consequences of divorce. They say that their financial assets are better protected if they cohabit rather than marry. They fear that an ex-wife will "take you for all youve got" and that "men have more to lose financially than women" from a divorce.
Several men expressed the opinion that there was little difference between the commitment to live together and the commitment to marriage. According to them, marriage is "just a piece of paper," a "legal thing" that you do for family and friends. One observed that cohabitation was just like being married, so why go through the hassle of an expensive ceremony and legal contract? However, this was not the majority view. Most men put marriage on a higher plane of commitment than a living together partnership.
Marrying a Soul Mate
Most of the men in these groups want to marry at some future time in their lives. They expect their marriages to last a life time. Like the majority of young adults today, they are seeking a "soul mate." They envision a soul mate as a woman with whom "you are completely compatible right now," "someone youre not putting on a show for," the one person you connect with. Notably, they emphasize a soul mates willingness to take them as they are and not try to change them.
Until they find a soul mate, however, they are willing to wait. They dont want to "settle" for second best in their choice of a marriage partner, though they dont have the same standards for a choice of a live-in girlfriend. Indeed, in some cases, they see her as a second best partner while they continue to look for a soul mate.
The Timing of Marriage,
Men want to be financially "set" before they marry. For many men, this means owning a house before they marry. However, most of the men in these groups are not yet homeowners, and some are living with a parent, relatives, roommates, or girlfriends.
Most men had no ideal age or timetable for their own eventual marriage. They say: "Ill know when Im ready" and "Whatever happens, happens." One man referred jokingly to the Larry King syndrome: you can get married and have kids at any age.
A number of the men stated that having children was the main reason to marry. However, these men are in no great hurry to have children. Unlike women, they have no biological clock to impose a strict time limit on fertility. Several men expressed a desire to have children at a young enough age to enjoy them. As one put it, "I dont want to be a grandfather to my kid." But for most of these men, having children was a remote life goal. At their age, they did not yet feel ready for the financial responsibilities or disruptions of a child. Some recognized that children would burden their relationship with their partner, and that the presence of children would require compromise and change. Notably, none of these men expressed a burning desire for children, a view that would likely have been different if the study participants had been childless unmarried women of similar age and background.
Few Social Pressures to Marry
Todays young men encounter few, if any, traditional pressures from religion, employers or society to marry. Some men in the group reported mild, teasing pressures from parents who wanted grandchildren, or from married buddies, but they shrugged this off. A few noted that they first began to think about marriage when their friends began to get married. However, since some of their friends marriages seemed ill-advised or doomed, they were not unduly influenced by peer pressure to marry either.
The New Work/Family Bargain
Men support the idea of women working outside the home. Indeed, most say that they expect their future wives to work for pay outside the home. Underlying this expectation is the idea that women should be independent-minded and pursue their own career interests. As one man explained: "I like the idea of marrying someone with drive. I would expect her to want her career just as bad as I want mine." However, most of the men describe the advantages of having a working wife in affective rather than strictly financial terms. That is, they think that a wife who works is likely to be a more interesting companion than one who isnt employed. "She doesnt have to have a big income, but a career, a life of her own" said one man. "She definitely has to work . . . or in the evenings, itll be a one-sided conversation," another observed.
When children come along, however, men think it is preferable for one parent to stay at home or for relatives or grandparents to provide childcare. The overwhelming consensus is that you dont want to put your children in "stranger care." A number of men say that they will stay home with the children if their wife makes more money and prefers to be the primary breadwinner. However, the men who expressed interest in becoming stay-at-home dads tended to be less well educated and less well employed than other men in the group, so it may be that their relatively poorer employment prospects make the idea of staying at home with children attractive in theory. (However, it remains to be seen whether they would continue to hold this view if they actually had the responsibility of full-time house and childcare, or whether they would prove themselves to be competent primary caregiving parents.)
Divorce Is Too Easy
Like other young adults, these young men are highly critical of divorce. They think couples are too willing to call it quits without trying to work through difficulties in a marriage. As one observed: "One fight, and its like Im out of here." Some attribute the readiness to divorce as part of a societal trend toward narcissism, consumerism, and "too many choices." "You used to fall in love with the girl in your high school English class. Now you have more choices and you get married and then three years later, a better one comes along," commented one man. Others believe that both men and women are more independent and need each other less: "Now women are making as much as their husbands so they can say see ya," one said. Finally, these men cite the legacy of parental divorce as a factor contributing to a persistently high divorce rate: "We figure hey my parents got divorced, so we can get divorced." A couple of men expressed the opinion that living together before marriage lowers the level of commitment to marriage and thus contributes to a greater propensity to divorce, though this was a minority view.
However, despite the strong and pervasive criticism of divorce, the men generally feel that children are better off if their parents divorce rather than stick it out in an unhappy marriage. They concur that this is the better choice even if the couple does not fight but simply has "fallen out of love." They say that "children are smarter than you think and can pick up on parents unhappiness." Apparently they believe that a childs intuition that parents may be "out of love" is more harmful than the actual experience of parental divorce. Clearly, these men consider and evaluate marriage as an intimate couple relationship rather than as a child-rearing partnership. Thus, the perceived quality of couple satisfaction is more important in deciding whether to stay in a marriage than any perceived harms to children that might come from parental divorce.
Whats the Future of Marriage?
Overall, men are not optimistic about the future of marriage as a lifelong commitment. They are acutely aware of the risks of divorce. Although they hold out the hope that their generation will work harder at marriage than baby boomers, they say that they are already seeing the first wave of divorces among their friends and this shakes their confidence in the future. Also, they believe that adults continue to change and "grow" and this makes it much harder to stay married to one person for a lifetime. One man said that he thought a contemporary marriage partnership of equals is more difficult to achieve than the traditional marriage with strict gender roles.
As with the respondents in our earlier focus groups and surveys, these men do not believe that there is much that can be done to strengthen marriage on a society-wide basis. However, they do favor education on how to have and sustain successful relationships and marriages.
Men see marriage as a final step in a prolonged process of growing up. This trend has a positive side. Men who marry at older ages are likely to be more financially stable than men in their late teens and early twenties. Further, men who marry at an older age may have gone through a "wild oats" period and may be more dependable and mature husbands and fathers.
At the same time, there is a potentially negative side. Financial stability, often equated with owning a home, comes before marriage in their personal priorities. However, pegging the timing of marriage to mortgage rates may substantially delay marriage, especially in more difficult economic times. Further, a prolonged period of single life may habituate men to the single life. Some of these men have spent a good part of their early adult years living with parents, roommates or alone. They have become accustomed to their own space and routines. They enjoy the freedom of not having to be responsible to anyone else. Like Henry Higgins, they fear losing their solitary pleasures by "letting a woman in their life." More than a few men expressed resentment at women who try to change them. "Women look at men like computers; they always want to upgrade," one said. Some of the men describe marital compatibility as a matter of finding a woman who will "fit into their life." "If you are truly compatible, then you dont have to change," one man commented. Another man, who was a member of a band, said that he was grateful that his live-in girlfriend didnt give him a hard time about his late nights and the time he spent socializing with his bandmates after their gig.
In the past, of course, men might drag their feet about getting hitched, but there were pressures to wed. Marriage was associated with growing up and taking on male adult roles and responsibilities. Parents expected sons to leave and set up their own household. Now the pressures are mild to nonexistent. Boys can remain boys indefinitely.
In addition, some of the traditional community and family forces that might encourage single men to learn the habits of compromise, give-and-take, and fitting in with others are weakening as well. Young men today live in a peer world. Some have grown up with only one or no siblings. As young adults, they may have little experience or contact with children in a family household, something that was more common for unmarried young men in times past. Even meal times can be solitary.
Perhaps the most significant factor contributing to male delay of marriage is the rise of cohabitation. Men can get many of the benefits of marriage without the commitment to marriage, or, as they often point out, without exposure to the financial risks of divorce. Cohabitation gives men regular access to the domestic and sexual ministrations of a girlfriend while allowing them greater legal, social and psychological freedom to lead a more independent life and to continue to look around for a better partner.
The men realize that women face time pressures to marry and bear children. At the same time, however, they express little sympathy for womens circumstances. Several men took the view that men had to be careful because women "want to get married just to have kids." Moreover, as noted above, there was strong sentiment that an unmarried woman who already had a child was less desirable as a date, and certainly less desirable as a prospective marriage partner.
The vast majority of young women today hope to marry and have a family. Men also share this aspiration for marriage and family. However, unlike women, they can postpone marriage for a longer time without losing the chance to have a biological child. Consequently, mens reluctance to marry makes it harder for peer women who are in their prime marrying years to achieve their desired life goal. As one man put it, "Thats their issue."
If the above is true, it goes a long ways in explaining the lengthy discussion held above.
Rutgers does a masterful job on this and other issues. Their statistics and writing are clear and to the point. If you hit the URL above you will find additional data and conclusions about this topic. A job well done!
AKA: Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?
Not that I'm saying Mrs Neuton is a cow mind you.
Now 28 years later I find out her first name is Always.
This whole topic must be considered in the light of increased health and life expectancy. Isn't a 25-year-old woman now as healthy and having as long an expected remaining lifetime as an 18-year-old did in 1950?
And of course the problem of divorce and children comes into play. People get attached to dogs, never mind children--and if the other person can call things off and take the children--and even move out of state . . .
Throw in child support to boot, and becoming a father is trusting your wife. A lot. So should I be eager to see my son get married? I'm thinking, I'm thinking!
Because we dont want to give away half of our stuff when the relationship goes sour. :-)
Marriage is like a tornado...In the begining there is a lot of sucking and blowing but in the end someone always loses their house.
Well, at least the women have their career. Or maybe they could just suck it up and do the family thing by themselves... You reap what you sow, don't you know...