Why men drag their feet down the aisle

SUN Newspaper

Young men won't commit to marriage because they are so comfortable with their current arrangement — just living with a woman — that they don't see why they should bother, a new study from Rutgers University says. A divorce could cost megabucks. And as great as it would be to have kids, the men are a bit put off by the expectation that they will share child-care burdens equally with their wives. The findings are from Rutgers' National Marriage Project, which released a report Tuesday on the top 10 reasons young men won't marry. The observations won't startle anyone who follows the travails of the unmarried young. But still, the report will probably inflame the current debate on commitment that is taking place from academic campuses to singles' bars.

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"A tremendous amount of young men's reluctance to commit has to do with living together," says David Popenoe, the project's co-director. "Guys can postpone marriage indefinitely, with all the benefits of having a quasi-wife." Over half of all first marriages are now preceded by living together, he says.

Excuses, excuses

The top ten reasons why men are reluctant to commit to marriage, according to a new report from the National Marriage Project of Rutgers University:

1. They can get sex without marriage more easily than in times past.

2. They can enjoy the benefits of having a wife by cohabiting rather than marrying.

3. They want to avoid divorce and its financial risks.

4. They want to wait until they are older to have children.

5. They fear that marriage will require too many changes and compromises.

6. They are waiting for the perfect soul mate, and she hasn't yet appeared.

7. They face few social pressures to marry.

8. They are reluctant to marry a woman who already has children.

9. They want to own a house before they get a wife.

10. They want to enjoy single life as long as they can.

Popenoe's report will be debated at the "Smart Marriages" conference to be held by the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education, July 11 to 17. Several other researchers there will talk about men, commitment and marriage. Some disagree with the premise that it is men who don't want to go down the aisle.

Popenoe's study findings come from 60 not-yet-married heterosexual men, ages 25 to 33, interviewed in a total of eight focus groups in four metropolitan areas: Chicago, Washington, D.C., Houston and northern New Jersey. He says the report does not reflect rural America, but he thinks the study generally "gives a sense of what is happening around the country."

Popenoe says the popular belief is true: Procrastinators are typically male. "It is men more often than women who are accused of being 'commitment phobic' and dragging their feet about marriage. Our investigation of male attitudes indicates that there is evidence to support this view," the study says.

Men fear the economic effects of divorce, Popenoe says. "They are in that stage of life where they are building their income, their economic independence. The worst thing would be if they were to lose it all."

None of the men expressed a "burning desire" for children, saying they were not ready yet. Another factor may be at play, Popenoe says. "They know they will have to be there equally with a wife and provide hands-on child care."

Male reluctance to marry may have an impact on women who want to get on with it and have children, Popenoe fears. Men in their 30s, when they are ready for wedding bells, tend to marry younger women. Females in their 30s then marry older men, he says, many of whom have been married, had children and are not interested in having more.

Both young men and women are marrying later, experts agree. The median age for first marriage for men is now about 27; for women, it is 25.

Other presenters at the Smart Marriages conference have different takes.

One reason young men balk at marriage is "they don't yet get it," says Atlanta psychiatrist Frank Pittman, author of Grow Up! The problem is they just don't realize what is in it for them, he says. "We have not done a good job of selling marriage to men. They don't know all the good things that will change their lives.

"Married men are healthier than single men, wealthier, they live longer and happier lives, they have more sex," Pittman says. "They have somebody who knows them, and tolerates them anyway."

Others say don't skewer young men: It is actually young women who fear commitment.

Women often see marriage as a better deal for men than for women, providing a man with steady sex, a caretaker for the kids, a social planner, a domestic servant, and a second — sometimes larger- paycheck.

Young women seem increasingly discouraged about finding a lifetime mate, says University of Chicago sociologist Linda Waite. And there is a creeping reluctance on their part to marry, she says. "One of the things women have done is invest more in their own careers. They have put off forming close relationships and getting married."

She outlines her case for the benefits of marriage to both sexes in the Case for Marriage.

Young women are more reluctant to marry than young men, says Willard Harley Jr., author of His Needs, Her Needs. "It is harder for women to fall in love and to stay in love."

His reasons will not comfort either sex. Women simply want more in a marriage partner than men do, he says. They are fussier.

A man just wants a wife "to look good, provide great sex, join in his recreational activities and tell him he is wonderful," says Harley, a marital therapist based in White Bear Lake, Minn.

Women's requirements are much broader, he says. "They want affection. They want to feel loved. They want a great conversationalist, a man who is funny, a good father for their kids, someone who is attractive, a good sexual partner, a man who is ambitious and successful. And most men are simply not" all these things, he says.

The debate over commitment is a healthy one, Waite says. Popenoe's research "may be valuable for getting the subject out there and sparking others to develop the next set of tools to measure commitment."


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