How Important is Marriage to College Students, Really?

As much as the Marriage Pact would love to endow every participant with an everlasting romance, we understand that marriage isn’t the end goal for everyone. From domestic partnerships to voluntary celibacy to polyamorous relationships, it’s clear that life partnership in the modern age comes in an abundance of shapes and sizes (and sometimes in no form at all). 

According to Bloomberg, Gen Z is unique in its nonchalant approach to marriage compared to previous generations. While marriage is certainly still an attractive option for the majority of young adults, today’s youth are less eager to jump into married family life as soon as possible and tend to be more critical of the more antiquated aspects of conventional heterosexual marriage. 

One Stanford senior majoring in Mathematical and Computational Science remarked that the concept of marriage is still an exciting one—though he’d prefer to leave some of the outdated practices behind. 

I personally love the idea of having a big party to celebrate dedicating my life to someone in front of all my friends and family. The idea of finding a life partner is something that really resonates with me. 

But I do think there are some traditional ideas surrounding marriage that are a bit off-putting. For example, the whole “fathers giving away their daughters to the groom” thing, and the fact that the convention is for the bride to take the groom’s last name. I think stuff like that should get left behind, but I don’t think that marriage on its own is the problematic thing.

How is this trend substantiated in the Marriage Pact survey data? To find out, we analyzed student responses to the question “I would consider it a failure if I never got married.” Responses lie on a scale from 1 to 7, with 7 indicating the highest level of agreement.

We focused on three schools for this analysis: Stanford, William & Mary, and Notre Dame. School-wide averages tended to lean slightly towards the pro-marriage end of the spectrum. Notably, Notre Dame had a higher average than the other two schools (which makes sense, given that its student body tends to lean more conservative). 

Thoughts on Marriage

When we broke averages down demographically, things got a bit more interesting. First, average responses differed widely based on political and religious affiliation. Because values pertaining to family and romantic relationships are often rooted in religious or political beliefs, this comes as no surprise. 

Political conservatism was clearly correlated with a desire to marry; average responses for Republican students were highest at all three schools, while responses for Socialist and Communist students were consistently the lowest. 

Marriage Politics

When it came to religion, students who identified with any branch of Christianity tended to have the highest averages, while atheist students tended to lie on the lower end of the spectrum.

Marriage Religion

Students’ responses to this question also varied across gender identity and sexual orientation. At all three schools, men were the most likely to view a marriageless life as a failure, followed closely by women and not-so-closely by non-binary students. 

Marriage Gender

Additionally, heterosexual students (namely heterosexual men) consistently had the highest averages for this question; homosexual students came next, followed by bisexual students. Bisexual women tended to have the lowest averages across all gender identities and sexual orientations. 

Marriage Sexual Orientation

Given that the predominant model for marriage throughout history has involved a straight, cisgender couple—and that the institution of marriage has excluded LGBTQ+ individuals for much of its existence—it makes sense that queer students might feel less pressure to marry than their straight peers. 

Of course, there are factors beyond demographics that might influence a person’s answer to this question. For example, the types of relationships a person witnesses during their upbringing may impact their desire to marry later in life. 

One Stanford senior majoring in Engineering Physics echoed the sentiments of the last student I spoke with, but noted that her opinion was significantly shaped by the relationship she saw modeled in her parents. 

I’d like to get married, but I definitely wouldn’t see it as a failure if I don’t. Marriage just isn’t my primary goal, or something that I feel I need to work towards. I think there’s so many other ways to succeed in life that don’t involve finding a life partner. 

That being said, I do love the idea of having a person to share my life with. I’m also lucky to have seen a really happy, healthy marriage modeled in my parents. They’re constant sources of support for one another, and they really are each other’s best friend. If I didn’t get to witness that example growing up, my views towards marriage could be totally different. 

No matter your views on marriage as an institution, it’s clear that true romance knows no bounds. Whether it’s a spouse, platonic soulmate, or something else entirely, we sincerely hope you find the thing you’re looking for. (Of course, we’re always here to help).