First comes love, then comes marriage (maybe)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012 | 1:00 p.m. CDT; updated 9:09 a.m. CDT, Monday, May 7, 2012

COLUMBIA — We've long heard the sad prediction that about 50 percent of American marriages are doomed to fail — and that statistic is pretty accurate. According to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about half of first marriages end within 20 years.

But in a modern twist on that tale, the Associated Press also reported that the study suggested a shift in social attitudes and stigma toward living together before marriage. The research reports that 60 percent of married couples today lived together before getting hitched. Cohabitation is no longer considered, by many, a casual convenience that undermines marriage.

As I've interviewed young people across Missouri, I frankly haven't paid a lot of attention to that question. Sure, I've asked whether marriage is important to individuals and how meaningful relationships factor into their American Dream. But cohabitation seemed to be a non-issue for me — or maybe a bias of my generation.

Researchers trace the trend to a variety of factors: education levels, changing attitudes toward commitment or even family histories that make individuals pessimistic about marriage.

Several people I talked to for our American Next project stressed their desire to avoid a broken home or divorce. Take Matt Melville of Sedalia, for instance. Part of his American Dream is to have a strong marriage and enough financial well-being to create a stable family environment for the children he hopes to someday have. He wants them to have the same sense of security that graced his childhood.

For Melville, the idea of family is nuclear. But should we be asking what "family" means to others? How else have relationships and families changed for Generation Y?

This story is part of the American Next, a special project exploring the hopes, fears and changing expectations of Missouri's next generation. 

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