Young people today are much more concerned about where they’re going to work than who they’re going to marry, says David Brooks in The New York Times. In one American study, three-quarters of 18 to 40 year olds said that making a good living was “crucial to fulfilment in life”, while only a third said the same about marriage. Forty years ago, just 6% of 40-year-olds had never been married; now it’s around a quarter. It’s not that people are against marriage. They just see it as “something to enter into after they’ve successfully established themselves as adults”.
Whenever I talk to young folk about this, “I am seized by an unfortunate urge to sermonise”. Yes, work is important, but so too is marriage. “If you have a great career and a crappy marriage you will be unhappy, but if you have a great marriage and a crappy career you will be happy.” This isn’t just “softhearted sentimentality”. Numerous studies have shown the importance of intimate relationships: a University of Chicago economist recently found that marriage was “the most important differentiator” between happy and unhappy people; other research has shown that a good marriage is a better predictor of happiness than your job, income, education and how often you have sex. There are plenty of reasons why you might not get to enjoy a happy marriage: you may not meet the right person; you may find them but end up drifting apart. But don’t let it be because you didn’t think it was worth thinking about.