Men are waiting longer and longer for that first trip to the altar, and researchers at Rutgers University say they have figured out why.
Men don't need to get married to get what they want these days — mainly sex — so they feel comfortable in putting off that long term commitment until they have a few bucks in the bank, and a mortgage to pay off.
Those are among the conclusions in the latest annual report issued by the National Marriage Project at Rutgers, a long term research program aimed at understanding why marriage has declined in this country by one third since 1970.
More Mature — and Stubborn
Men are now waiting on average until the age of 27 to marry, compared to 25 for women, but that doesn't mean they are against marriage as an institution, according to the co-directors of the project, David Popenoe, a behavioral scientist and professor of sociology at Rutgers, and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, a marriage expert. Men, they conclude, just aren't in any hurry.
"The good news is that men who marry later may be more financially stable and emotionally mature," says Popenoe. The bad news is they may be so set in their ways that they are lousy at making the compromises that help a marriage get over the rough spots.
The researchers conducted eight meetings with 60 "not-yet-married" men in northern New Jersey, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Houston. The men were ages 25 to 33, and none of them were gay.
The researchers note that most people think it's men, not women, who are "dragging their feet about marriage," and they state "our investigation of male attitudes indicates that there is evidence to support this popular view." The primary reason given by men for taking their sweet time:
They can get sex without marriage more easily now than in the past.
And they aren't all that interested in having children anytime soon, which is of concern to the researchers because the biological clock is clicking on the women they will someday expect to mother their kids.
Many of the conclusions won't come as much of a surprise to anyone who has observed the current state of mating rituals. When men pick up a girl in a bar, for example, they aren't looking for a long-term partner. A one night stand is more likely on their minds.
The participants also indicated that they want a woman who is able to take care of herself, which is somewhat of a reversal from the macho old world attitudes of just a generation or two ago. But here's a conclusion that is right out of the age of romantic novels:
What Men What
"Most of the men in these groups want to marry at some future time in their lives," the researchers conclude.
"They expect their marriages to last a lifetime. Like the majority of young adults today, they are seeking a `soul mate."'
But all that can wait. There doesn't seem to be anyone pushing them toward the altar anyway.
"Today's young men encounter few, if any, traditional pressures from religion, employers or society to marry," the researchers state, although they do get a bit of ribbing from parents who want grandchildren and colleagues who have already made that trip to the altar.
One area that concerns many men, according to the research, is the fear of failure. They see friends who are too willing to give up at the first sign of disharmony, and there's no question that marriage is not an easy institution to maintain.
The researchers believe marriage has a much better chance of surviving if both partners expect it to last a lifetime. Attitude at the opening gun seems to be very important.
But here's a line from the report that is worth pondering:
"Men see marriage as a final step in a prolonged process of growing up."
Not surprisingly, some of the guys who participated in the project are still living with their parents.
Top 10 List
For the record, here are the 10 top reasons why men are "slow to commit:"
1. They can get sex without marriage more easily than in times past.
2. They can enjoy the benefits of having a wife by cohabiting rather than marrying.
3. They want to avoid divorce and its financial risks.
4. They want to wait until they are older to have children.
5. They fear that marriage will require too many changes and compromises.
6. They are waiting for the perfect soul mate, and she hasn't yet appeared.
7. They face few social pressures to marry.
8. They are reluctant to marry a woman who already has children.
9. They want to own a house before they get a wife.
10. They want to enjoy single life as long as they can.
Lee Dye’s column appears weekly on ABCNEWS.com. A former science writer for the Los Angeles Times, he now lives in Juneau, Alaska.