Redefining Family and the Value of Marriage


“Leave it to Beaver.” “I Love Lucy.” “The Partridge Family.” These were the shows our parents and grandparents grew up with and paint the picture of the ideal family: two loving parents and perfect children living in a cozy home happily ever after. Today we have “Modern Family,” “Raising Hope” and “Parenthood.” We see divorce, single parenting and unmarried couples living together. The changes in these TV shows reflect what we believe constitutes a normal, current-day family, which calls into question the institution that binds it all together: marriage.

Time Magazine in conjunction with Pew Researchers recently released the results of a nationwide marriage survey that polled adults, both single and married, on particular aspects relating to marriage—from age, to children, to spousal roles and marital expectations. The results, featured in Time magazine’s Nov. 29 issue, raise a number of questions about the role marriage plays in America today.

Whether due to high rates of divorce, a changing idea of what validates a relationship or some other reason, marriage has become less popular. According to the study, 72 percent of the country was married in 1960. By 2008, only 52 percent were.

But does this statistic represent a decline in how we view marriage or does it just show a decrease in the number of couples walking down the aisle? Has marriage become an institution that is on its way to extinction, a fading trend that can now be considered outdated? According to the poll, 39 percent of people found marriage to be obsolete. While this number may seem high (it was 28 percent in 1978), it does not reflect a change in how people view their family: 76 percent of adults polled said family was the most important thing in their life.

The idea that there could be an imminent end to what has structured the foundation of most families for hundreds of years was met with varying responses by Fordham students. Some believe that marriage is sacred, saying that we shouldn’t be quick to get rid of the longstanding tradition.

“Regardless of religion and culture, people have been getting married since the dawn of time, Piyali Syam, FCLC (Fordham College at Lincoln Center) ’12, said. “I think it’s something inherent to human nature—that need for reassurance and commitment.”

“Marriage is putting a name and contract on true love,” Rachel Sferlazza, FCLC ’14, said. “I think in a lot of ways it is becoming obsolete, but I don’t think it should be.”

Others foresee the end of this once revered custom.  They reflect that it may not be that big of a deal anymore, and that it is no longer needed or valued as it had been earlier.

“Some people are just not suited for marriage,” Eunice Kim, FCLC ’14, noted. “The idea of marriage is that it’s one of the milestones of reaching adulthood. But nowadays, it’s like people have more freedom of choice if they want to be married.”

“I think marriage is still happening today but it’s not valued as highly as it used to be and not happening as much,” Sarah Tazghini, FCLC ’12, said.

Clara Rodriguez, professor and associate chair of sociology and anthropology at FCLC, doesn’t think marriage is becoming obsolete. “I think there is still that sense of romance and desire to be married to look forward to,” Rodriguez said. “A good measure is to see how well the wedding companies are doing—they’re not falling apart.” She does note, however, that people approach marriage differently today.  “I think people go into it now with a greater sense of  ‘this may not work’ than was in the past, the ’til death do us part.’”

While many at Fordham still consider marriage as something to be desired, they think it’s better done later in life. According to the study, 68 percent of people in their 20s were married in the 1960s. By 2008, just 26 percent were.   Maybe it’s the frantic rush of city life and that constant pressure to get ahead. It could be society telling us that in a competitive job world, steady employment is vital for success. One thing is certain though: for students at FCLC, fulfilling personal career goals takes precedence over marriage.

Alex Mitchell,  FCLC ’12, said he and his girlfriend don’t really worry about marriage. He wants to get married at 35 or later. “I just have a lot to do,” Mitchell said. “Before I get married, I want to have a very steady career. Unless she’s super rich. Then I’ll marry her tomorrow.”

Syam thinks the ideal age of marriage is 30. “My family would never want me to give up a career just to get married earlier,” Syam said. “Thirty is an age where you can advance to some sort of position of stability and make a name for yourself in your career. I think for any career, you need time to yourself. “

Why are people getting married later in life? Rodriguez thinks it has to do with the changing role of women in society—the emergence of the career-driven woman. “I think women are taking longer to complete their education and establish themselves financially, so they don’t have to be economically dependent,” Rodriguez said.

Mitchell echoed those sentiments. “Back in the 1960s, women were expected to live in the house and cook and make babies. Now, more women are waiting longer to get married because they have more freedom.”

The poll shows these numbers too. 40 percent of wives had jobs outside the home in 1970. Today, 61 percent do.

One thing that has raised questions about the necessity of marriage is cohabitation, living with a boyfriend or girlfriend without tying the knot. While this type of living situation was often discouraged in the past, today it has become far from abnormal. It’s what couples use as a trial run before marriage or to save money. According to the census bureau, cohabitation has doubled since 1990.  At FCLC, most students saw rooming with a significant other as something positive.

“Cohabitation is a good idea,” Kim said. “When you learn to live together, in a way you learn what each other’s personal habits are. Not until after they are married do some couples have problems.”

“Why wouldn’t you?” asked Mitchell. “If you don’t live with someone, you don’t know what it’s going to be like when you’re married. You can figure out if something bothers you instead of waiting until marriage when all those problems would come up.”

Religion, culture and tradition cause others to view the idea of cohabitation in a negative light. “Personally, I wouldn’t live with my boyfriend before I got married because I’m from a traditional family that is conservative,” Syam said. “I’m Indian and for Indian families, it’s unheard of—it’s almost scandalous.”

According to the Pew survey, answers about cohabitation were mixed. 43 percent said living together without being married was a bad thing, while 46 percent said it was a good thing.

Marrying later and cohabiting before saying “I Do” are just a few of the ways the idea of a new family has emerged, and it is a change we see on TV today. Rodriguez said she “looks to pop cultural as reflecting a changing society.” And we do that, too. Gone are the stay-at-home moms adorned in floral print aprons pulling freshly baked pie from the oven. Instead, we see the career-driven Liz Lemon in “30 Rock,” and the unmarried Derek and Meredith from “Grey’s Anatomy” living together. But regardless of how the contemporary family is viewed, marriage for many still remains something worthwhile to pursue. “I look forward to marriage,” Alex Lupo, FCLC ’13, said. “For me, it’s like the pot  of  gold at the end of the rainbow.”