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Traditional marriage has its milestones. You marry as a virgin, consummate your union, raise a family and swear to be faithful till death do you part – right? Research into Gen Y views on marriage now suggests that lifelong marriage may be due an overhaul, with Gen Y increasingly open to a temporary 'beta marriage'. But what’s driving these young adults to try marriage with a probation period? Explore the science behind why Gen Y want to try before they buy into marriage.

Throughout history, the notion of tentative marriages, trial periods and other similar ideas have already been voiced by writers and legislators, which proposed short to mid-term marriage contracts that can be terminated or extended by couples – but such laws were never passed. But a recent study suggests that 43% of Gen Yers are happy with a 'beta marriage', in which after an agreed number of years, they can choose to renew, renegotiate or split.

Gen Yers are more cautious about the long-term commitment of marriage Gen Yers are more cautious about the long-term commitment of marriage
Alvaro Urrejola, Creative Commons (2015) ©

‘Beta marriage’ isn’t a new concept; in the ‘70s, anthropologist Margaret Mead proposed the idea of ’serial monogamy’, where people would have a string of different partners over time. Her ideas were backed by Helen Fisher, with many anthropological biologists believing that humans are more suited to short-term monogamous relationships, rather than forcing them to commit until death or divorce.

“This is a generation that’s used to this idea that everything is in beta, that life is a work in progress,” says Melissa Lavigne-Delville, author of the study. “It's not that they're entirely non-committal, it's just that they're nimble and open to change.” In 2013, 40% of newlyweds had been married before, and Gen Yers are increasingly unwilling to tie the knot. With casual dating apps like Tinder giving this generation an overwhelming amount of choice and encouraging a hook-up culture, there's a mentality that the grass can always be greener. And coupled with the fact that many Gen Yers already have divorced parents, it’s easy to understand why they’re so tentative to commit. Perhaps it’s time to adapt marriage so it reflects the needs and concerns of Gen Y. And if that means replacing the traditional 'I do' with 'I choose you for now’, it might be the way forward.

Alex Rückheim is a Behavioural Analyst at Canvas8. Having lived in nine countries, he holds a master’s degree in Strategic Marketing and is fascinated by cross-cultural shifts in consumer behaviour. He is also the founder of design-focused site GOODS WE LIKE.


20 Apr 17
3 min read

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