Kurtz: Not putting a ring on it might be the new norm

Michael Kurtz

Although Kim Kardashian just filed for divorce after 72 days of marriage and Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum has been hitched for 21 years, there’s at least one thing they can both agree on: Holy matrimony and raising families in this country just ain’t what they used to be.

Santorum, who rode his reputation as a mid-90s culture warrior for two terms as a senator from Pennsylvania, prides himself on his commitment to marriage and the traditional nuclear family. Although his steadfast opposition to extending marriage and adoption rights to gay couples has (rightfully) earned him the everlasting ire of gay activists like Dan Savage – who, in retaliation, redefined “Santorum” in a most raunchy manner – the ex-senator does seem to walk the proverbial walk. He has seven children and is a devout Catholic. And although fewer and fewer people share his condemnatory instincts, many of his views still resonate with the general public. Pew polls show that 69 percent of people think the rise of single motherhood is bad for society and 61 percent believe children need both a mother and father to grow up happily.

Although they lead vastly different lifestyles, Kardashian seems to share Santorum’s faith in marriage. Last year, even though she had already gone through one divorce, she told People magazine that “I want that best friend partnership” and “I want to fall in love.” In this respect, Kardashian shares substantial similarities with millions of Americans. Recent studies have shown that 63 percent of single women between 21 and 34 want to get married and Auburn University data indicates that 75 percent of divorcees eventually remarry. Unlike the rest of us, however, Kardashian can sell the TV rights for her wedding for millions of dollars and presumably has access to top divorce lawyers to protect her assets. Though no one is immune from the emotional consequences of divorce, she is significantly protected from the financial ones.

So, although millions of Americans can relate to Santorum’s fierce advocacy of the traditional nuclear family or Kardashian’s ongoing search for lasting love, the experiences of freelance writer Kate Bolick might prove most instructive of all. Bolick, who is 39 and single, wrote the cover story, titled “All the Single Ladies,” for this month’s issue of Atlantic Magazine. She argues that women remain single longer and longer – and some never tie the knot – because increasing levels of gender equality in education and at the workplace have rendered the old dynamic of “marrying up” obsolete. This decline even cuts across class lines: between 1960 and 2008, marriage rates plummeted from 72 percent to 48 percent amongst high school grads and from 76 percent to 64 percent for college graduates.

There used to be a popular Facebook group called “Disney gave me unrealistic expectations about love.” Who knew how prescient that would be? Although people still profess beliefs in marriage and the nuclear family, it appears that one of the defining social trends for our generation will be the relative decline of both institutions. At our 20th reunions, a smaller proportion of Millennials – relative to our parents, the Baby Boomers – will sport wedding bands and yap incessantly about how gifted our kids are. Though families like the Cosbys won’t go the way of the Pterodactyl, we will probably see a more even distribution between married couples with children, married couples without children, divorcees and single folks over 40. Whatever stigma remains for the latter three groups will probably dissipate significantly. So, if you haven’t met Prince Charming or Snow White by 2033, or if you have and just don’t plan on little ones, worry not: you’ll probably be in good company.

Michael Kurtz is a Weinberg junior. He can be reached at [email protected]