Let’s Talk Stats

Did you know?

  • There were approximately 2,118,000 marriages in the U.S. in 2011
  • And in 2011 there were approximately 877,000 divorces in the U.S.
  • The median age for people who got married for the first time in 2013 in the U.S. was 29 for men and 26.6 for women
  • “In more recent years, women were increasingly likely to cohabit with a partner as a first union rather than to marry directly: 48% of women interviewed in 2006–2010 cohabited as a first union, compared with 43% in 2002 and 34% in 1995”
  • “In 2000, women with at least a bachelor’s degree had 1.5 fewer children than women with less than a high school degree. By 2010, when the age of 35-44, the gap decreased to 0.9 fewer children.”
  • College-educated women in their 30s are increasing their fertile years; however, they are still having fewer children than non-college educated women.

Sources: 2010 U.S. Census; U.S. Census Bureau; “Random Samplings”, The official blog of the U.S. Census Bureau; “American Community Survey Reports” (2009); National Health Statistics Reports (2013)

(Photo credit: Xandert via Morguefile)

Love and Marriage

This week I interviewed a couple for my marriage film project. It was my first interview for this venture and it certainly has inspired me to gather momentum for more interviews—and more of them soon. Since I’m not yet in the filming stage, preliminary interviews are going to be quite valuable for determining how I proceed with my focus and production for this project.

While I can’t share many details about my interview with the couple here, I will say that these 2 people have gone through a great deal—positive and negative—together, and they could easily serve as a model for other couples and individuals. They married in the early 1960s in the U.S. and they’ve stayed married ever since, despite their challenges. Both shared that the most popular question they are asked is, “How have you stayed married for so long?”, to which they reply, “We didn’t get divorced.” I recognize that this seems like too simple of a formula. It’s not that this couple hasn’t struggled, but there is something about their individual earnestness that appears to be the key to their lasting union.

Now it’s time for me to explore this vast topic of marriage through more interviews, and in addition to that, I’ll be delving into our society’s collective conscious through pop culture and media. I am very curious as to what I’ll discover. Here’s to more investigation!

The Good Ol’ Days

Cadillac 1950

Recently, I watched a video online regarding marriage preparation in the U.S. in the 1950s.  As you can imagine, it’s a sweet and innocent portrayl; and surprisingly it makes some useful points that are still relevant today. However, was marriage actually easier back then? Where the expectations surrounding marriage different from today?  In order to answer these questions, there are a number of factors to consider from women in the workforce to men being drafted into the military.

One of the best ways to gather this information is to speak with those who know it first-hand. I’d like to interview people who got married in the ’50s and ’60s in the U.S. and who are open to sharing their experiences.

If you know of individuals and couples who fit this description and who may be interested in being interviewed for my project, please let me know by sending a message through my contact page. Thank you!

The Lovings

New York LOVE art

While it’s not even close to June 12th, the day of the annual “Loving Day” celebration, I want to pay my respects to Richard and Mildred Loving. In case you don’t recall their story, Richard and Mildred decided to get married in 1958. Richard was white and Mildred was black. At the time they were living in Virginia where interracial marriage was against the law. Since they loved (I know, isn’t it a perfect coincidence?) each other, they went to Washington, D.C. to marry. They returned to Virginia and a few weeks later (as I understand it) they were arrested because their marriage violated the state’s anti-miscegenation statute prohibiting “white” people and “colored” people from marrying.  The Lovings were convicted via state law.

After nearly a nine-year period in the legal system, the Lovings’ case reached the Supreme Court; and in 1967 the Court overturned the convictions, which, in effect, abolished the Virginia law against interracial marriage. On a larger scale this decision deemed anti-miscegenation laws a breach of the Fourteenth Amendment; and in any state where the law was still enforced it essentially became invalid.

Fast forward a few years and it was my parents getting married as an interracial couple in California. California’s anti-miscegenation law had already been repealed in 1948, so my parents weren’t subject to civil discrimination.  However, they certainly experienced their fair share of prejudice from within their collective family.  This is not the time to tell their full story, but I will say that my parents were refused support from a couple of immediate relatives upon being engaged. Their decision to marry required sacrifices that affected family dynamics for years.

I am grateful to the Lovings for their courage and determination to pursue what was legitimately—although not at the time lawfully—theirs.  I am especially grateful to my parents for being trailblazers and for making sacrifices that have undoubtedly influenced my attitude on life as well as my ability to be authentic and unfettered.

Here’s to the Lovings and to all who seek sweet-truth and justice.

Photo Credit: Kevin Connors

The Wedding vs. The Marriage

I’ve attended oodles of weddings.  The occasion is typically a lovely one filled with joy, laughter, and unabashed dancing.  However, nearly every time I’ve sat in the church, community center, or outside on the lawn to witness the ceremony, the same thoughts run through my mind: Why do people spend so much money and time on such a brief event? Why is there more focus on the bride than on the groom?

In the U.S. the custom for weddings is, arguably, to spend a great deal of money on them. Unless you want to have a last-minute gathering in your backyard with a potluck and barbecue, you’ll need to spend money, and often more than desired. I cringe when I think about the exorbitant cost people—friends included—have incurred for the occasion. From a venue and catering to musical entertainment, flowers, and a dress, the numbers easily reach into the tens of thousands.  A Reuters article in 2012 reported that the average cost of a U.S. wedding was $27,021.

My thought about money doesn’t come from judgement. It comes from curiosity and from watching people (some of whom I care very much about) experience a great deal of stress related to their weddings. I’ve been behind the scenes and watched friends and their family members melt down over a number of mishaps from flowers not being the intended color to dresses not being fully fluffed. Yep. I have acquired excellent dress-fluffing skills. And even when the show moves forward and the money has been spent, a wedding event, at least in the U.S., is typically over in a flash.

Wedding Rings

When it comes to a majority of the couples that I’ve known, there is usually more emphasis and attention on the bride than the groom on the wedding day. It’s her day and all eyes are on her. Men generally rent a tuxedo while women purchase a once-in-a-lifetime dress. Women typically receive an eye-catching engagement ring while one is not usually supplied to men. Also, in many cases, it’s the woman, along with her entourage, who advises, plans, and coordinates nearly all aspects of the event.

I take issue with this approach. If marriage is a partnership and the goal is for the two people to stay married forever, then why is there more emphasis on the bride on the wedding day?  I imagine this thinking comes from the history of marriage being a transaction of sorts between two families. The groom’s family either paid a “bride price” to his bride’s family, or the bride’s family paid a “dowry” to assist with her establishing a new household. In either case, there is a clear focus on the woman being the primary factor in the transaction.

My instinct is to focus on both the bride and groom, equally. I want to shower them both with love and attention. When the woman gets more of the spotlight, I feel that this is a reflection of a value placed on women as being more involved in or attentive to the wedding event.  I recognize that this premise is not true for every couple; in some cases, both are very involved and “present”. However, I can’t help but ask: does the energy and preparation that goes into a wedding also go into a marriage? Or, is the event with its high cost and stress the apex?

This may be grim questioning, but I do want to understand how people approach this significant stage in their lives.  The wedding day is meant to be a celebration of a new union and once that union has commenced I realize that it automatically enters a new stage. But what happens afterward, after they’ve returned from their honeymoon? Does a couple receive the same attention and support?

Photo credit: earl53

All in the (TV) Family

As a child I watched a good amount of TV. It was the 1980s and sitcoms and dramas were bountiful. My weekly roster of shows included The Cosby Show, Magnum P.I., Growing PainsFamily Ties, and Full House to name a few.  In my innocence, I believed that many of these shows reflected family life with accuracy and authority.  And I was convinced that they portrayed some kind of ideal. When I watched the married couples handle an assortment of challenges from unruly children to tough decisions regarding the stay-at-home parent, I was surely satisfied with the conclusions. But let’s face it, nearly every problem was nicely wrapped up with a lovely bow on top at the end of each episode—that’s television.  The exception was with the show All in the Family and then the spin-off show Archie Bunker’s Place.

It must have been Archie Bunker’s Place that I watched, occasionally.  I know it wasn’t with any regularity because that show plain scared me.  There was a mean man of the house who yelled most of the time and with the yelling came condescending, racist, and seemingly misogynistic insults. I didn’t understand why anyone in the family wanted to live with Archie. And I especially didn’t understand how his wife Edith could handle such meanness. The show’s intentional bigotry for the purpose of defeating bigotry was lost on me. However, when I look back now on the dynamic between Archie and Edith I realize that while there was inequality in their marriage, they actually appeared to be a compatible couple. Edith wasn’t a complete pushover and Archie did yield to her guidance on more than one occasion. It was a different time then and the expectations of marriage seemed to be different.

The TV family no longer influences my ideals nor does it contribute to any potential fears that I may have toward marriage, partly because I don’t watch much TV now, but mostly because I’m not as impressionable. I’ve witnessed enough in my life to understand that marriage is complex. There are countless ways that couples must work at being loving and compassionate and at compromising.  So where do people gather skills for marriage? If not from TV, we all learn how marriage functions from somewhere.

For most of us we learned about marriage through what we witnessed in our environments. If our parents were married when we are children, we observed how they related to each other, how they dealt with issues and stress. If they weren’t married or weren’t present, then we still may have gained some knowledge of our parents’ relationships, or by watching other couples. When I think about it, our society makes many assumptions about marriage preparation.  How are we to learn about marriage by only witnessing?  Shouldn’t there be required classes on the subject? Like with math and science, isn’t it a necessary course?

The answers seem obvious to me. Yes, we need marriage preparation because it is a necessity. I don’t imagine that I have inherent knowledge and wisdom about how to contribute to a successful marriage. I’ve heard about parenting classes and I’ve heard about marriage preparation courses.  I even know of people who went to counseling before they decided to get married. This all makes sense to me, but I wonder if this type of preparation is common.  I imagine it may be viewed by some as a sign of deficiency. However, even if two people have previous relationship experience, that doesn’t mean that they’ve acquired the tools and skills for marriage. My vote is that we make marriage preparation courses somehow mandatory, or at least encourage others to investigate.

Personally, I’ve peeked at some marriage preparation material, but I haven’t taken the time to really study it.  I think it’s now time to study.

18 Years, but Who’s Counting?

I’m intrigued with Edward Burns’ film “Newlyweds”. I’ve viewed it several times now and each time I make a new connection.  The main storyline is a comment on marriage and the dynamics around new marriages.  For most people who watch it, they won’t necessarily find magnificent revelations; however, there are some witty observations.  In the beginning of the film one of the main characters—one half of the newly wedded couple—makes a comment to his sister-in-law about her failing marriage: “You’ve been married for eighteen years . . . if it ended today you could probably call it a success, right?”

In American society it’s an undeniable fact that a great number of marriages end in divorce.  While I am interested in exploring divorce at some point, in this moment I’m most curious about the idea of success in marriages and what defines this success for different people.  I’m not placing judgement on any specific attitude or standard, but I would like to know if most couples take stock throughout their marriages in order to maintain healthy, loving, unions.  Or, does this tend to happen only when the relationship is coming to an end?  And if a marriage is terminated, is the measure of its success based on how long it lasted? I imagine for many, this is a guiding principle. Like with a marathon, there is a finish line for every couple and those lines will be at different points along the race. Maybe this perspective is truly what this society needs right now in order to weather the “failure”.

The experience of failure can lead to shame and even trauma, and I don’t mean to make the focus simply a psychological dilemma. However, the idea of divorce leads me to wonder if people are choosing to not get married because they can’t imagine being in a marriage that will make it to the “finish line”, whatever that means for them.  Recently, a friend and I were talking about a trend we’ve been observing among the non-married people we know.  My friend shared that many of her single associates and friends want to remain single because they believe there is potentially more to lose—financial, emotional, and personal power—by getting married than if they fly solo.  They see marriage as too high of a risk and they’d rather just live their lives and do the best they can to be happy.

While there are marriages that travel through horrific trials and arduous tribulations, not all marriages are as exasperating, right?  Through the ups and downs, there are many points of achievement and joy.  However, it seems like many people are walking on shaky ground in their marriage. I’ve heard people say, “We’ve been married  for ____ years. I hope that we can ‘make it’, but you never know.” Does this apprehension come from real challenges that a couple may be facing or for some people, do they enter into their marriages expecting the worst?

In the end, regardless of the successes, it seems that the failure of marriages is taking the lead. I can appreciate that this reality is daunting.  I want to have a healthy marriage someday, and I genuinely want people to be happy and to thrive in their lives and relationships. But, there is a real loss of hope and a lack of confidence in the prospect of success in marriage. And this may be what is keeping many people out of the race.