Study: Americans Seek Soul-Mate Spouse

N E W   Y O R K, June 13, 2001 -- Single Americans in their 20s want to marry someone who shares their innermost thoughts and feelings, rather than someone rich or of the same religion, a survey said today.

Today's young Americans are on a quest to find their "soul mate," compared with past generations that sought spouses with similar religious and social backgrounds, said a new survey from Rutgers University's National Marriage Project.

"Seeking a compatible mate who shares similar values is not new, but what is new and surprising is that the soul mate ideal has become the most desired marital partner characteristic for this age group — surpassing religion, economics and even the ability to be a good mother or father," said David Popenoe, co-director of the National Marriage Project.

Among Americans in their 20s who have never been married, 94 percent said the wanted a soul-mate spouse "first and foremost," said the survey, which was called "Who Wants to Marry a Soul Mate?"

They were very confident of success. Of those surveyed, 88 percent agreed there was a "special person, a soul mate, waiting for you somewhere out there," and 87 percent thought they would find that person when they were ready to get married.

For 80 percent of the women polled, a husband who could articulate his deepest feelings was a better catch than one who earned a good living. Only 42 percent of single Americans in their 20s thought it was important for their spouses to have the same religious beliefs, the survey showed.

The survey is part of the project's wider "The State of Our Unions" report on marriage trends in the United States. It was based on telephone interviews with 1,003 married and single men and women age 20 to 29 from January through March this year.

In Vogue

"There's an awful lot about soul mates in popular culture," Popenoe told Reuters. "It's the term of the hour. … It's a big change from times past when you maybe hoped a spouse would be a soul mate by the end of life but you didn't start out looking for such a person. You were looking for someone responsible and reliable who would be a helpmate for the tasks of life."

The term soul mate is in vogue, cropping up in popular U.S. television shows like Sex and the City, as marriage continues to lose appeal in the country, Popenoe said.

"The marriage rate hasn't started to go up; the out-of-wedlock birthrate hasn't started to go down; single-parent families are still going up slightly and there has been a tremendous increase in nonmarital co-habitation," he said.

According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 43 percent of first marriages end in separation or divorce within 15 years.

Nor does the soul mate quest necessarily produce a happy marriage, experts said.

The belief that there is only one perfect mate for a person sets unrealistic expectations for marriages and often can lead to divorce, they said.

"Twenty-somethings are still romantic and idealistic, still want to find their soul mate and have the marriage of their dreams, so that's very good," said Diane Sollee, the founder and director of the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education. "The bad news is if we keep operating on that premise, we will keep repeating the current trend of a very high divorce rate."

Children Not the Goal

At the same time, young Americans were more concerned than ever about divorce, Popenoe said.

Close to nine out of 10 Americans in their 20s thought the divorce rate was too high, and 47 percent believed laws should be changed to make it more difficult to divorce, it said.

The fear of divorce and the hunt for a soul mate could explain the high rate of young Americans who live together before getting married, the survey said. Among those polled, 44 percent had lived together, at some time, with a partner of the opposite sex while not married.

Marriage was no longer associated with having children the way it once was, the survey said.

Only 16 percent of young Americans saw having children as the main purpose of marriage, while 62 percent believed it was acceptable — although not ideal — for a woman to have a child on her own if she had not found the right man to marry.

The soul-mate relationship also created tension when a couple had children, marriage experts said.

"The soul-mate ideal intensifies the natural tension between adult desires and children's needs," the survey said.