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Why more New Yorkers aren't putting a ring on it
Perhaps the demolition of the Defense of Marriage Act will help revive the institution of marriage, which is on its sickbed throughout the nation — and on life support in NYC.
Only 51% of adults nationwide were married in 2011, down dramatically from 72% in 1960, according to a Pew Research Center analysis. At least 28% of adults nationwide have never been hitched.
“We expect marriage rates to decrease and the marriage gap to grow,” as a consequence of growing income inequality, said Orit Avishai, an assistant professor of sociology at Fordham University, who studies the institution.
Marriage is even less popular in micro-apartment-central NYC, which, experts say, attracts many people expecting to live a “single” lifestyle.
As of 2011, there were 3.9 million single people in NYC, accounting for 57.9% of all folks over the age of 15 — a 10.7% increase from 2000, when only 52.3% of our municipal population was single, according to the latest census.
“The marriage bar is set higher in New York, because the city requires more resources to get started,” said Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project. NYC has all the ingredients to make marriage even less popular than it is nationally, Wilcox said.
These include extremely expensive housing (“When people have access to cheap housing, they are more likely to get married and have children”), a more secular than average population (religious people are more likely to marry than the nonreligious), a higher percentage of gay citizens (who, until recently, were unable to marry), a disappearing middle class (less affluent people are more likely to delay or dodge marriage) and “a lot of women doing better than men.” Men are more likely to tie the knot when they feel financially secure, and many women prefer to marry men who are at least as successful as themselves, Wilcox said.
“People in the city are so work-centered. They want to establish themselves before they even go on a date!” said Allison Schulze, 21, a single sales associate who works on the Upper East Side.
Reflecting a national trend of older ages for first-time marriages (according to Pew, the average is now 26.5 years for women and 28.7 years for men), Schulze said she will make time for relationships “when I’m older.”
Michael Garrett, 25, of East New York, has three children between the ages of 11 months and 7 years with his fiancée, but they have yet to set a date for “I Do.”
Garrett proffers a bouquet of reasons why he and his partner of nine years have not tied the knot. None involve a lack of love.
But even with working multiple jobs (he is both a security guard and a manager of rap artists), he and his partner — a stay-at-home mom in the midst of a master's degree — can’t save enough for anything approximating the “spectacular” weddings he knows from movies.
The child of a single mother, Garrett has only been “to one wedding all my life — and that was a friend’s” he attended at the age of 15, he said.
A lot of his friends, Garrett said, are in “the same situation I am: They live together and they have kids together, but they’re not married.”
The concern Garrett and others evinced about wedding costs indicates larger economic anxieties, Avishai said. Dwindling marriage rates “reflect declining economic opportunities and a growing wealth gap,” she said.
“Lower-middle-class people used to be able to behave like middle-class people,” but now marriage has become much like other benefits — an affordable home or a secure retirement — that are privileges of an increasingly small elite, she said.
“I can’t afford it,” Amaeze Amadi, 33, said simply when asked why he wasn’t married. “I can’t buy any property. I can't raise any kids,” the South Bronx musician said.
Poignantly, though, the sacred tie so many eschew for financial reasons often fortifies an individual’s (especially a female individual’s) economic prospects.
According to national census statistics, 17.1% of people ages 16 and older without a spouse are in poverty, but only 6.6% of those who have a spouse are officially poor. (While 19.4% of all New York City residents live below the poverty line, no local breakouts of single-versus-married poverty rates were available.)
Yet, many people say they still want to be married, however elusive a golden ring.
Garrett holds out hope he and his longtime fiancée will eventually legalize their relationship, with or without the accompanying stunning reception.
His fiancée, he said, wants at least one more child, “but she wants to do it the right way. She’s tired of having a different name than her kids.”