Gen Z, the social-first generation that has people restructuring how they work and is sparking trends across fashion, tech, and thought, isn’t too concerned about getting hitched. According to a 2021 survey conducted by dating group Ashley Madison, their young users aren’t as focused on marriage as millennials or baby boomers. They’re open to a relationship, but walking down the aisle doesn’t top their to-do list.
Social media and the rise of online dating changed millennial and Gen Z dating forever. Even though a hookup/hot date/relationship was just a swipe away, in 2018, 1 in 4 young adults spent the year celibate. It was documented that loneliness was on the rise as well, which was no doubt exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. With unlimited options and high-stress, pressing concerns beyond relationships that are constantly in the news cycle (like, you know, climate change), it just may be harder to connect.
Young people also may want to take their time to find someone. Kyung Mi Yu’s 2020 Yale Daily News story on romance in the Gen Z era stated her belief that “people are averse [to long-term relationships] because they’re more… introspective about the kinds of relationships they want to be in.”
Also, after some of Gen Z watched their grandparents divorce and have deep regrets about marriage, they seem to be taking a different approach to love and commitment. The hope is that their predecessor’s pitfalls won’t become their own.
For women, marriage was once leaned into for financial security. When you think about the purely transactional aspect of marriage (one party received economic comfort, the other got a dowry and expected an heir), it’s not surprising that love wasn’t always called on to take a front seat. Husbands paid bills, women nurtured the home, period. That dynamic was restricting though and made way for relaxed legal responses to abuse.
Additionally, after the 1920s (before which men were fined or jailed for physically abusing their spouses), space was given for men to abuse their wives without as much intervention from the court. In 2013, the Michigan Journal of Gender and Law’s “The Exit Myth: Family Law, Gender Roles, and Changing Attitudes [T]oward Female Victims of Domestic Violence”, found that as women gained the vote, were able to divorce with a bit more ease, and began competing with men for jobs, it was felt that leaving a violent spouse was simple. Married women were still often limited to domestic positions and paid less than their counterparts, so the independence that was perceived by the courts wasn’t quite what they imagined it.
Twentieth century marriages had their fair share of problems—infidelity and rushing due to the then-pending status of another World War were also among them.
Freedom to avoid, or push back, marriage has also gained popularity though, with young women free to live their lives on their own terms. So when Gen Z does decide to engage romantically, the time has the space come after they’ve enjoyed their life and not because they’re running towards it. But embracing the experience doesn’t mean marriage right away.
They see the critiques about not respecting marriage, polyamory, and their welcoming of the non-traditional (and ever-existent) family unit and figure that tying the knot is worth the wait. In these new connections, dating can stretch on and more progressive definitions of love can emerge.
Marriage isn’t dead, by the way. Eighty percent of Gen Z wants to get married at some point. Getting hitched is just no longer the nucleus of life. They see the historic problems within the institution and are ballsy enough the try and fix them—in their own way, of course. They also want to become well-rounded people with life experience under their belt before they try to loop someone in for the long haul.
So yes, love is alive. It’s just in the shop for repairs while the new generation opts for a new paint job.