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"We Want to Be Married on Our Own Terms"

Take a closer look at non-university young adults’ beliefs about marriage.

Key points

  • Young people's attitudes towards marriage are changing.
  • A study of non-university emerging adults found no gender differences in viewing marriage as important and wanting to delay it.
  • The results suggest that women may not perceive themselves as "needing" to be married these days.
Young adults’ beliefs about marriage.
Source: StockSnap/Pixabay

The marital paradigm conceptual framework suggests that beliefs about marriage consist of three main sub-dimensions: marital salience, marital timing, and marital context. However, non-university young adults’ marital beliefs and gender differences within this group have yet to be fully explored.

In a recent study1, however, the authors utilized both quantitative and qualitative methods to test two questions:

  • What are non-university emerging adults’ beliefs about getting married?
  • What gender differences exist between men and women in their beliefs about getting married?

Drawing on previous research, the authors raise hypotheses that men will report higher marital salience and higher endorsement of positive contextual reasons and contextual barriers to getting married than women.

Study 1 quantitatively indicates that there were no gender differences in how men and women viewed marital salience, and they both endorsed the idea of delaying marriage. Men were more likely than women to endorse statements for reasons and barriers to getting married.

Study 2 collected qualitative data from seven semi-structured focus group interviews, which were coded in multiple approaches. The overall theme for both men and women is the belief that marriage is wanted but not needed. They tend to wait for the ideal circumstances (e.g., finding a soulmate). Megan, one of the participants, said:

"I haven’t found the right person that I want to marry yet… I just haven’t come across that person I feel like I want to spend the rest of my life with."

More interestingly, we can find an extra emphasis that women tend not to "need" marriage. As Samantha said:

“Uh, for our generation and I think people have feminism so wrong... People think of it along the lines of, 'We’re feminists, we don’t need men, we don’t need to get married.” As opposed to feminism: 'No, we have the right to choose. We want to get married because we want to, and we have just as much to bring to marriage as a man. We don’t need a man.' And that’s not why we’re getting married anymore because we need a man in our life; it’s because we choose that and that’s what we want.”

Indeed, some nuances exist between the statements of men and women. Specifically, men were more likely to report lacking personal readiness for marriage, such as the fear of losing freedom, as a barrier to getting married, whereas emphasizing alleviating loneliness as a benefit of marriage. Fred said in the interview,

“I think that’s valid, that marriage requires one to be responsible to others and inhibits individual freedom... because there are certain things you can’t do if you’re married.”

Considering that the largest gender distinction in aspiration toward marriage shown in study 1 is to mitigate loneliness, this issue is worth more attention. Women also notice that. For example, Isabella said,

"I feel like a lot of guys do that (get married to not feel alone), more than women do.”

On the other side, women fear relationship dissolution more, which seemed connected to an overarching distrust of men. Like Kiana noted,

“I feel it’s the men’s fault that the millennial women are not gettin’ married because they wanna stray or they’re not workin’ as hard as they used to.”

In conclusion, this study suggests a potentially heightened marital paradox for men in comparison to women. Explanations for this phenomenon may be that men benefit more from marriage, consistent with previous literature, and that they seem more hesitant to take on the responsibilities expected in a marital role, as I note in my book, Happy Singlehood.


Leonhardt, Nathan D, Brian J Willoughby, Jason S Carroll, Shelby Astle, and Joshua Powner. 2020. "‘We want to be married on our own terms’: non-university emerging adults’ marital beliefs and differences between men and women." Journal of Family Studies:1-23.

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