Over time, the marriage institution has evolved from a means of protecting tribes to the beautiful weddings we all know today, based on the bride and groom’s love and respect for each other.
Nowadays, the bride and groom can not even imagine marrying a person they don’t love deeply. However, love became part of the equation of marriage relatively recently.
In fact, in the past in the middle ages, people used love to describe their love for God, their children and family.
South Asians considered falling in love dangerous and antisocial, a state of mind that made people act irresponsibly against the family’s decisions.
Weddings were a necessity for our nomadic ancestors. While they were roaming the earth in search of food, the hunters gatherers often encountered other tribes and to avoid bloody fights they would marry a member of one tribe to another member of the second tribe.
Because of that behaviour, the old Anglo-Saxon term for wife meant peace weaver.
If you don’t love your future mother-in-law, our ancestors felt ecstatic when they gained new in-laws. For them, marriage was a tool for consolidating their power and the stronger the bride and groom families, the better it was.
Creating new relationships and gaining in-laws also meant expanding the network of trading partners, a win-win for both families.
Here is a strange custom found among some tribes in Pacific Northwest islands. They have weddings between a dog and another person’s hand if there were no youngsters to be married.
That custom proves that in antiquity, marriage was nothing more than a formal tool to increase economical and sometimes political power. The famous story of Antony and Cleopatra was based on political interests more than an illusory and temporary mutual attraction.
Since the dawn of humanity, the marriages were social, political and economical tools to ensure a family’s success. In the past it was unheard of to allowing the children decide whom they would marry.
Towards the end of the 18th century, the birth of wage labour (being financially self sufficient) and the Enlightenment allowed couples to marry even against family interests.
In America and France, the idea that everybody is the master of her own destiny took off and young people started choosing their spouse based on love, not economic interests.
With the advent of wage labour, men (usually) could make a good living in the booming cities of the new world and thus escape from the dictates of the family.
People in western societies were open to marrying their beloved, but when it came to marital sex, things were strictly regulated. Men were told to have sex no more than once a month, so many of them found relief in the arms of prostitutes, whose numbers exploded.
On the other hand, women were suffering from “hysteria”. That was nothing more than severe sexual frustration, and the “treatment” was massaging the pelvic area to achieve orgasm. Around the same time, another tool was invented: the vibrator.
Having fought in the second world war for a few good years, the boys returned home and started establishing new families. It is during that time when the baby boom started. At the end of the ’50s, about 50% of the 19-year-old females were married and 70% of the 25-year-old women.
Women who reached the age of 21 and were not married were feeling the peer pressure and often panicked they will end up old maids.
So many people were married back then, that at the end of the ’50s a survey showed that 80% of Americans thought singles to be deviant or promiscuous.
The typical family in the 50s and 60s was this: the male was the main earner in the house while the wife was a stay home mom taking care of the children.
The 1970s the number of marriages dropped like a rock and the number of divorces skyrocketed. About 50% of couples decided to separate.
Sadly, it was love that was the culprit for this. As marriage was based mainly on love, after a few years, the reason to be married, namely the mutual attraction, was fading rapidly, so couples were feeling the 7 year itch.
Meanwhile, the women got married later and were more educated in the 70s, so they were not depending on the husband to provide for the family. In addition, the kids rebelled against traditions and fewer youngsters got married.
Sadly, the percentage of people who get married is declining rapidly. If in the 2000s about 55% of the people between 25-34-year-olds were married and only 34% were single, in 2015 the numbers reversed. According to the Wall Street Journal, in 2015 about 53% of youngsters (24-35-year-olds) were single and only 40% were married.
A few reasons contribute to the decline in the marriage rates: the fear of commitment, the closing gap between the men and female wages and more important, the availability of cheap sex.
According to WSJ research, the women don’t expect time, attention, or a long-term relationship in return for sex. Apps like tinder transformed sex in a national sport. The above-mentioned article features a young man who wants to sleep with a million of women.
The omnipresence of digital sex (cams, websites, etc) makes the need for a real partner fade. Futurists anticipate difficult times for the institution of marriage, and one of the reasons is the advent of robots. Theoretically (for now), a woman can order an amazingly looking male partner (robot), with a lot of stamina, always in the mood and who does not need a lot of attention. The same can be said for men who can build their ideal robot partner.
According to an article by Steven Ruggles, a professor at the University of Minnesota, the age of people getting married increased to the highest in the last 100 years. The median age in the USA for the first marriage is 29 years for males and 28 for females.
The predicted rate of females who never married by the age of 40-44 is 30%. In other words, one out of three women will never marry by the age of 44.
About 50% of men and 45% of women surveyed had no partner, while the percentage of divorce among women reached 20% +. Keep in mind that 100 years ago, less than 5% of women would divorce.
According to the same article by Steven Ruggles, there is a rapid increase of separation or divorces among the 50+ couples.
Once the children leave for university, the parents have no reason to stay together and hence file for divorce.
Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage and Monogamy (Oxford University Press) by Dr. Regnerus, Associate professor at University of Texas at Austin
The Wall Street Journal: Cheap Sex and the Decline of Marriage, Sep 29, 2017
Marriage, Family Systems and Economic Opportunity in the USA Since 1850