9 ways millennials are approaching marriage differently from their parents

  • Marriage looks a lot different today than it did 30 or 60 years ago.
  • For example, millennials are more open to interracial and interfaith relationships and less likely to have sex outside of marriage.
  • We rounded up the biggest differences between the way millennials and their predecessors approach marriage.

The institution of marriage is constantly evolving.

Couples who get hitched today create a partnership that looks totally different from their parents’ and grandparents’ — from their wedding to their commitment to monogamy.

Below, Business Insider has collected some of the starkest contrasts between the way millennials and their predecessors approach married life. Just imagine how different marriage will look in another 30 years.

Millennials are more accepting of premarital sex ...

Picture: Getty Images

A 2015 study, published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behaviour, found that millennials are the generation most accepting of pre-marital sex.

In the 1970s, just 29% of American adults believed premarital sex among adults was 'not wrong at all.' That number increased to 42% in the 1980s, 49% in the 2000s, and 58% between 2010 and 2012.

... but they're waiting longer to have it

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Meanwhile, a 2016 study, also published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behaviour, found that millennials have had fewer sexual partners than previous generations.

As Business Insider's Chloe Pantazi reported, results showed 15% of millennials aged 20 - 24 said they had no sexual partners since turning 18. When people born in the 1960s were ages 20 - 24, just 6% said they hadn't had sex.

Dr. Helen Fisher, an anthropologist and the Chief Scientific Advisor to Match.com, told Pantazi this is possibly because millennials are more ambitious in their careers and more cautious about starting relationships.

They're starting relationships online, and those marriages may be stronger and happier


At least one-third of couples meet online. Dating sites and apps are especially popular among younger generations of Americans.

And a growing body of research suggests those who connect through online-dating services go on to have happier marriages, and are less likely to divorce.

For example, a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2012 looked at about 19,000 people who married between 2005 and 2012. People who met their spouse online said their marriage was more satisfying than those who met their spouse offline. Plus, marriages that began online were less likely to end in separation or divorce.

(That study was funded by eHarmony.com, but one of the study authors told MarketWatch that it was overseen by independent statisticians.)

It seems likely that people who register for online dating are more interested in a serious relationship -- not that online dating directly causes relationships to be stronger.

Millennials are more likely to live together before marriage

INSIDER's Kim Renfro reported that some sociologists say there could be a link between declining divorce rates and more people deciding to live together before marriage. A 2009 Australian study, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, found that 'for more recent marriages, premarital cohabitation reduces the risk of separation.'

Presumably, that's because people have a chance to realise they're not compatible after cohabiting for years. And indeed, 64% of millennials and Gen X-ers believe that living together before marriage may help prevent divorce.

Still, it's worth noting that some psychologists say moving in together as a trial run is rarely a good idea. Whatever problems you hope will disappear once you shack up probably won't.

Millennials are marrying later

Most millennials want to wed eventually: A 2013 Gallup poll found 86% of single, never-married Americans ages 18 to 34 would like to get married someday.

They're just waiting longer to do it. According to a 2016 Gallup poll, 20% of Americans ages 18 to 30 are married. Compare that to 32% of Gen X-ers and 40% of Baby Boomers when they were the same age.

Millennials are more open to interracial and interfaith marriage

Picture: Getty Images

According to a Pew Research Center survey, published in 2010, 85% of millennials say they would be fine with a marriage to any racial group (the survey asked specifically about African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, and white Americans).

That number decreases to 73% among 30-to 49-year-olds, 55% among 50- to 64-year-olds, and 38% among those 65 and older.

Meanwhile, another Pew report, published in 2015, indicates that 39% of Americans who have married since 2010 have a spouse who is in a different religious group. Compare that to just 19% of Americans who married before 1960.

Millennial weddings are especially lavish

Picture: Getty Images

According to a survey conducted on behalf of Best Buy, and highlighted in Glamour in 2015, 70% of newlyweds say their weddings were more elaborate than their parents'.

What's more, millennials are more likely to stage public proposals than their parents were.

Married millennials are less likely to have sex with someone other than their spouse

Younger generations of Americans are less likely than older generations to report having extramarital sex.

An analysis by Nicholas Wolfinger, a professor at the University of Utah, published on the conservative-leaning Institute for Family Studies blog, suggests that older Americans (55 and older) are now more likely to have sex outside their marriages than younger Americans (55 and younger).

Specifically, people born between 1940 and 1959 report the highest rates of extramarital sex -- several percentage points higher than people in their 20s and 30s.

It's possible that older couples simply have had more time to stray. Except that the oldest generations surveyed -- those in their 70s and 80s -- are less likely to report having extramarital sex than those in their 50s and 60s.

Wolfinger writes: 'Perhaps some people do become more likely to have outside sex partners as they age, but only if they grew up during the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s.'

Interestingly, Wolfinger's analysis also found people are less disapproving of extramarital sex today than they were in years past.

Millennials have complex attitudes about gender roles, marriage, and family

A 2017 paper for the Council on Contemporary Families found that young adults ages 18 to 25 have grown less supportive of gender equality in the home since the mid-90s.

Consider: In 2014, men ages 18 to 25 were more likely than their older counterparts to agree with the idea that it's better for women to be homemakers and men to be achievers in the outside world.

Other reports suggest that millennial men do support gender equality in the home, but they have a hard time putting those beliefs into action. An article in The New York Times reads:

'Millennial men -- ages 18 to early 30s -- have much more egalitarian attitudes about family, career and gender roles inside marriage than generations before them, according to a variety of research by social scientists. Yet they struggle to achieve their goals once they start families, researchers say.'

That's possibly because of a relative lack of family-friendly policies in the American workplace.

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