Earlier this year, the American Enterprise Institute and the Survey Center on American Life put out a new report on how men and women find and enter romantic relationships. This topic is critical for those who care about the health of family because romantic attraction serves as the genesis of family formation for most people.

Surveying more than 5,000 American adults, the survey’s most striking finding was that younger adults today are more interested in dating people they already know rather than seeking a mate online, with twice as many 18–29-year-olds explaining they were friends with their spouse or partner before they started dating compared to their older peers. Only about one in four Americans have ever used an online dating service and just as many have had a positive experience doing so as have had a negative one.

More significantly though, the report explains, “No social change has altered the fabric of American life so profoundly as the decline of marriage.” The U.S. Census Bureau has been reporting a steady and sustained decline in marriage rates over the last five decades. Cohabitation has been increasing dramatically over the same time, where up to 76 percent of marriages taking place today have been preceded by some form of cohabitation. The report details,

Only 25 percent of younger adults (age 18 to 34) are currently married, a dramatic decline over the past few decades. In 1978, younger adults were almost twice as likely to be married (59 percent).

But being unmarried does not mean young people see themselves as single, per se. These scholars explain, “More than three in 10 (35 percent) Americans have never married, but only about one in five (21 percent) are currently single.” They add,

Over half (53 percent) of Americans who have never been married and are currently living with their partner have been in the relationship for at least five years. Nearly one in three (32 percent) Americans living with their partner have been together for at least 10 years.

Women Less Interested in Dating

Add to this, the fact that young women are increasingly less interested in dating than their male peers. Only 36 percent of young adult women say they are interested in dating today compared to 52 percent of their male peers while 43 percent of those women state being “not interested in dating” compared to 34 percent of their young men being uninterested.

The most commonly given reasons for lack of interest are “more important priorities in life” and simply not being able to find someone they are interested in.

Women are far more likely than men (45% vs 29%, respectively) to say dating is not a significant life priority right now, but men and women are roughly similar in saying meeting people who are potential partners is difficult. Thirty-eight percent of single women say meeting men is tough while 35 percent of single men say meeting women is hard. And college educated women are most likely to report difficulty meeting a man who meets their expectations.

Just over a quarter (27 percent) of single Americans say a major reason they are not dating is they enjoy being single.

Relational Deal Breakers

Women are more likely than men to report having a greater number of relational deal breakers in mind when looking for a potential spouse. Does this mean women are pickier than men, or simply that women have more confidence in knowing what they are looking for in a mate?

The research is not clear on this, but these scholars explain, “For most interviewees, dating expectations reflected more basic needs of feeling valued, appreciated, and respected by their partner.”

The deal breakers listed by both men and women is certainly interesting, with things like being a Trump supporter being more negative than not believing in God or not wanting children.

Few Believe Marriage Obsolete

Even though marriage rates have declined in alarming ways, this report finds “few Americans believe that marriage has become obsolete” with 67 percent of Americans disagreeing that “marriage has become old fashioned and out of date.” Only 34 percent of young adults believe this compared to 27 percent of senior Americans that do.

Marrieds Report Highest Relational Satisfaction

Married respondents reported greater relational satisfaction than their peers in any other relational category. The report also demonstrated that Democrats tend to report lower relational satisfaction, and Democrat women report the lowest levels.

The report curiously explains the “Republican advantage in relationship satisfaction holds even after accounting for differences in educational attainment, race and ethnicity, age, and religious affiliation.”

In conclusion, this report notes the obvious, that the “arrival of social media, smartphones, and dating apps upended the American dating scene, changing how young adults approach dating and relationships.” But they also note something among young adults this is likely surprising to most of us when it comes to dating and mate selection,

One crucial shift has been in who young people choose to date: someone they already know. In the past, most Americans dated strangers. Even in the age of social medial and limitless options, young adults are increasingly dating people who were friends first.

This is important information for parents and other adults involved in the lives of young adults to know as they play the role of marriage champions.


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