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Baby Boomers and Millennials: From Dating to Marriage
In the words of the famous clergyman from The Princess Bride, “Marriage. Marriage is what brings us together today. Marriage, that blessed arrangement, love.” Since the beginning of the human race, human beings have formed partnerships, whether it has been for food or business or, more recently, for love. Society changes, new cohorts are born, fashions and fads come and go, and people move on with their lives. It is a cycle that we see repeated in all generations. One major institution that changes as society changes is that of marriage, especially in the process of how couples go about becoming lawfully wed. At the beginning, marriages were looked at as transactions between family businesses and countries, it was looked as a way to secure the future. Marriage was not an avenue to meet an individual’s wants and wishes, but it was a way of making sure one married into the right family with the resources required for sustainability (Coontz, 2005). From the 18th to 20th centuries, societies have worked on finding a balance of love and happiness within a marriage and the stability that this facet of society has brought to the table.
This paper will look at the change that has occurred between two specific cohorts, the Post-War Baby Boomers and the Millennials. The Post-War Baby Boomers are the people who were born after WWII, between 1946 and 1964, and Millennials are those who, for the purpose of this research paper, were born from 1981 – 2000. On the surface, Millennials are the freelance selfie-takers; the Baby Boomers are the stable life-builders. Why has there been such a change, and has dating and marriage between the two cohorts changed as well, too? This paper reviews research on the topic. The research question is has the change in marriage formation among the post-war Baby Boomers changed dating and marriage formation for recent Millennials and how?
The possibilities and freedom dreams were endless for Boomers, who became teenagers in the 60’s and 70’s. The 1960’s saw an upswing in the student population due to the growing number of boomers entering adolescence, and with this growth and feeling of mutual respect among young people, a mindset of protest without risk emerged. Following a new, young, charismatic President Kennedy, the youth of the sixties followed suit in believing in the optimism of possibilities promised by the president (Sanders, 2013). However, unlike their predecessors who may have felt pushed into a youthful marriage due to wartime circumstances, Baby Boomers were the teenagers who experienced the rallies and protest of the Sexual Revolution and Civil Rights movements and the draft of the Vietnam War. It wasn’t sockhops and ice cream socials anymore; it was sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll being peddled by the mass media (Allyn, 2000). This counterculture of banned activities is best embodied in the group of young people who became known as “hippies.” Hippies wore “alternative clothes,” smoked and sold cannabis, changed their names, had long hair, and took up residence in the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco. In the summer of 1967, the “Summer of Love” message got around and about 75,000 hippies came to visit the utopia of hippieism; this same year, President Reagan expressed his disagreement with this culture by saying “student protesters’ activities’ can be summed up in three words: Sex, Drugs, and Treason” (Sanders, 2013). With all these new movements taking off, the Baby Boomer’s parents worried incessantly about who their children were around and what was being exposed to them. “They knew they were different from the older generation; the ‘generation gap’ created solidarity among them” (Adams, Blieszner, 1998).
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Through the 1960s to the 1980s, the Sexual Revolution challenged almost every tradition that had been set into place with the formation of marriage. No longer was it taboo to speak out or engage in premarital sex, but rather it was finding commonplace within American culture. With the emergence of “the pill,” older generations were fearful on what effects this will have on this younger group. No longer was the first debate about married women and birth control, but not it was the unmarried women who were scrutinized for wanting more information about the contraceptive. One single women sent an answer to an open forum of three university professors questioning the Free Love movement with the question “Is free love a bargain?”, this was her response, “I take the Pill because I’d rather express my love than repress it. I’m not promiscuous, but once in a while I meet a ‘special’ guy. I’ve seen too many girls on campus totally disregard school for several weeks as they suffer anxiety over a missed menstrual period…. If a girl takes on chance a year, that’s enough to warrant taking the pill” (Bailey, 1997). Sex was in a category all on its own for parents and grandparents to worry about, and the seventies brought on a whole new wave of worries. As the 1970s rolled in, so did a new line of literature, and with this, there was an emergence of a new dialogue of self-revelations in regards to sexual fulfillment. Dating and sex manual and sex-therapy made their way onto the market with publications such as, Making Love: How to Be Your Own Sex Therapist, Free and Female: The Sex Life of the Contemporary Woman, and Toward Intamicy: Family Planning and Sexuality Concerns of Physically Disabled Women. There was also an rise in publications marketed toward the gay and lesbian population such as The Joy of Lesbian Sex: A Tender and Liberated Guide to the Pleasures and Problems of a Lesbian Lifestyle by Emily Sisly and Bertha Harris and Charles Silverstein and Edmund White’s The Joy of Gay Sex: An Intimate Guide for Gay Men to the Pleasures of a Gay Lifestyle (Ward, 2015). Amidst this young, wild, and free generation, there was still a want of stability in a household and a desire to marry after the dust settled on their teenage years.
“First comes love, then comes marriage….” is how the childhood taunt goes; for Boomers and every generation after, this is generally how it goes. Typically, “Boomers married out of high school because it was what their parents had done. The major attitude was that you needed to marry by the time you graduated college or you wouldn’t find anyone” (Hutton, Skinner, and Turgeon 2016). There was this importance to get married and to get married as soon as possible, and for many there was a sense of security about getting married earlier because that meant being able to settle and become established faster. There were some changes though once a couple decided to marry. Unlike the cohorts before where 94% of women married their first sexual partner, about 35% of female Boomers coming out of the 60s and 70s reported marrying their first partner (Asadi, 2015). Also unlike their parents, we also see a rising number of women in the workforce, this has raised the household bar on income since a family wasn’t only depending on the income of the male of the house. It was becoming more and more common for a woman to also earn a living wage. Even though these changes have caused some bumps for the married Baby Boomers relationships and family stability, both men and women were encouraged to adapt to the changing gender roles to help maintain family stability. All these factors of the Baby Boomer’s way of forming working marriages have an effect on the generations that come after them (Agree, 2017).
With the rise of technology, marriage formation has become even more different for Millennials than it was for previous generations. For today’s emerging adults, dating is not quite the process it once was; nowadays, a single millennial can find a date for the weekend simply by swiping left or right on a dating app that was downloaded onto their cell phone. Dating has become less personal and more vague and mysterious than it was in the past. Today, the process of getting the status of a dating relationship is different for different people because of the importance that has been placed on labels and tags. Today you have some people that are just “talking,’ which is sending texts to each other almost everyday if not everyday, but this is not an exclusive act because it is permissible to be “talking” to more than one person. Then there’s “hooking up,” which is a newer term for a “one night stand,” but it may happen more than once and with the same person as previous “hook-ups.” (Hutton, Skinner, & Turgeon, 2016). This “hooking-up” as not taken the place of dating, rather it has found itself coexisting with dating. Sometimes, hookups can become a way into a serious relationship (Allison, 2016). Among Millennials of college age, one study examined how the habits and personal behaviors related to dating, stress and the satisfaction of life of college student. This study found that the time that is spent on social networks is negatively related to relationship status, meaning that students not in a relationship will feel a higher sense of loneliness and this comes from the need and motivation of a student to have a dating partner. The students who spend countless hours engaging in this lonely behavior are also at a higher risk of experiencing depression which can lower the student’s social attractiveness and can hinder their ability to connect to others (Coccia & Darling, 2016).
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Since many Millennials are still going to college and searching for careers and spending more years working on themselves, many of them are putting off marriage for an older age than the previous generations. “First dates are more like job interviews,” instead of dating around as they did in college or high school, emerging adults are looking for something substantial that will fit into their new post-college life and career. With a rise in cohabitation, many are putting off marriage to save money for the wedding itself. One grad student who has been with the same partner for eleven years states “I can’t even imagine paying for a wedding right now.” In the midst of swamping work schedules and tens of thousands of dollars in student debts, there are large numbers of Millennials that are putting off marriage until they can find that stability that the institution of marriage promises. Paying for a child’s needs and making house payments are not in the cards for a majority of this cohort. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing; for women, marriage isn’t a necessary means of survival anymore. This generation still places an emphasis on marriage as a collective voice; marriage is just being put off until a later date for most (Barkho, 2016).
In comparison, the Baby Boomers generation was the first generation to see divorce take up a residence within families. In the 70s, divorce was everywhere you looked, and it became a part of the family cycle; it wasn’t the Boomers divorcing at this moment but their parents (Weiss, 2000). The Boomers are the first to push boundaries unlike any cohort before them, and much like today’s Millennials, Baby Boomers were completely different than the generation before them. One article from 1965 says “[teenager] could repudiate the traditional values of our culture… there could be violence and rebellious behavior… there could be sharply increased political apathy, distrust of political, religious, and social leaders, and more and more movement toward a pleasure-oriented, fun-loving way of life” (Porter, 1965). Then came the changes of 1967 that brought around drugs, riots, and sex. With the huge changes among the Baby Boomers, it is no wonder why dating and marriage has changed for the generations that followed. “These changing patterns of marriage, divorce, and childbearing over the past thirty years have resulted in late-life families that are increasingly diverse in structure and relationships” (Agree, 2017). Further down the line of time, in recent years, marriage has changed once again to add that same-sex couples are allowed to marry, a practice that was once forbidden (Chappell, 2015).
The evidence in the research is that Millennials and Baby Boomers react the way they do to dating and marriage formation because of how they were socialized growing up. One could say that the way Millennials date and marry and even cohabit was directly effect by all the social changes and reforms that took place during the years of the Baby Boomers’ youth. With the many myths that surround both of these cohorts, it can be said that they have blazed and are blazing new trails for the generations that follow them. Baby Boomers would not be around if it hadn’t been for the older generation, Generation X wouldn’t be here if not for Baby Boomers, and Millennials wouldn’t be around without any of them. It is a cycle that keeps going and going. Each new cohort that it born and formed is automatically related to the generations that preceded them, and neither Millennials or Baby Boomers are exceptions to that rule.
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