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Meeting Your Spouse in College

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At their 60th wedding anniversary last fall, my grandparents regaled their superfluously cynical grandkids with the tale of how my grandpa, leader of the local roller-skate gang (not kidding) had to publicly woo my petite prom queen grandmother at the high school they both attended. The story of my parents is similar: they met at 15, enrolled in neighboring colleges, and punctuated graduation with a budget wedding. 26 years, 3 kids and 6 dogs later, they’re still going steady.

But Gen Y is hard-pressed to tell you a story like this about itself. Sure, people still put a ring on their college sweethearts, but they’re waiting. Mid-20′s TB.com Facebook fans report that though their parents met as students, personally they’ve found their own partners later on, through other channels.

The facts back it up: the Yale Daily News cites a study by Norval Glenn, sociology professor at University of Texas at Austin, that states nearly 40% of married or divorced women who graduated college before 1955 met their first spouse in college; that number dropped to 15% percent by 2007!

Clearly, the student attitude towards marriage has shifted – but why?

We have lots of priorities.

College students just aren’t feeling as much pressure to tie the knot – not from themselves, and not from their parents. Responding to an online survey conducted in 2010 byWeddingbee, 64% of Gen Y women replied that they didn’t feel any pressure to find a partner in college – while only 10% felt that college was their “one chance” for meeting their future spouse.One young woman surveyed actually reports feeling pressured to NOT find The One: “My mom”, she says, “actually advised AGAINST getting into a serious relationship in college, and I’m glad she did. I traveled a lot, studied abroad, and moved away after school.” Based on the robust echoes of other women surveyed, it seems like her mom’s outlook is a popular one.

We’re into self-discovery.

The decline of the long-term college relationship may also be due to the prevailing belief that settling down too early interferes with self-discovery: in particular, professionally. Committing in college means that decisions affecting your career must be made in tandem (moving to a new city, for example).College kids nowadays are wary of missing opportunities for self-development. For many, it’s after graduation, at work and elsewhere, when they’re first exposed to wider range of ideas and experiences involving marriage.

We’re waiting for financial stability.

A recent analysis by the Population Reference Bureau cites education’s positive correlation to income as a big impact on marriage: college graduates may marry later than those who don’t attend, but they ARE more likely to get married. Financial security is important to us, so it’s easy to see why the currently unstable economic climate deters a 20-something from marrying before she feels properly equipped to take care of not only herself, but her spouse. For the college student who relies on his parents to pay tuition or other living expenses, marriage might feel out of the question.

We meet like-minded people off campus.

Proximity is key and college provides it. (No brainer, but…) we end up marrying people with whom we socialize. According to professor Mitchell L. Stevens, “college is a very important determinant of marital patterns” (Creating a Class: College Admissions and the Education of Elites, p. 139). Student relationships that lead to marriage, Stevens concludes, are what results from the emphasis that colleges place on socialization.There’s good chance of meeting someone like-minded in a college environment, but students are realizing that they don’t need to treat their student experience as a soul-mate scavenger hunt. College helps students develop the social skills integral to adult relationships while reinforcing the idea that there’s a bigger world out there full of people who share your interests, beliefs and priorities.

In short, seems safe to say that marriage means something to college students. But it’s only considered in the abstract, as a far-off but desirable event, before graduation. Marriage is a big deal – but let ‘em deal with finals first.

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