Comment Opinion & Features

Don’t blame millennials for the decline in marriage

The marriage rate for under 25s is almost zero in Britain

Hollywood has over-romanticised marriage. No wonder people are disappointed

Long before Theresa May proclaimed that “no deal is better than a bad deal”, Queen Victoria said, in effect, that “no marriage is better than a bad marriage”. Victoria, born 200 years ago, in 1819, counselled her friends and family not to marry “just for marriage’s sake” – even though her own marriage was very happy and only cut short by Albert’s early death.

Perhaps this Victorian theme is now being revived among a younger, 21st century generation, who, according to the Marriage Foundation, are not particularly enamoured of the notion of wedlock. It’s predicted that 57 per cent of teenage girls and 55 per cent of teenage boys will never marry because they are so unenthused about the idea. Marriage among those under 25 is, currently, virtually zero in Britain.

Advocates of matrimony, such as the admirable Sir Paul Coleridge (who launched the Marriage Foundation, a think tank in support of marriage), believe this is all very depressing and regrettable, and does not bode well for the future stability of society.

On the other hand, perhaps there has been too much unrealistic romanticising of marriage in the many years since Victoria’s words of caution.

Innumerable Hollywood movies, countless stories such as those promulgated by Mills & Boon, and such leaders in the field of romance as Dame Barbara Cartland, have possibly over-sold the rosy road to wedded bliss. And inevitably, as with any product that is over-sold, there can be a subsequent reaction.

By contrast, the Christian approach to marriage was often as forbidding as it was enticing, as in the sombre passage in the Book of Common Prayer – carried into the Anglican tradition from its Catholic roots – warning that marriage should not be undertaken “unadvisedly, lightly or wantonly, but reverently, discreetly, soberly and in the fear of God”.

Monasticism and admiration for the single life played a strong role in the formation of the Christian ideal. The nuns at my convent school never mentioned the word “marriage” – they were consecrated virgins, and had deliberately rejected worldly coupledom for themselves.

It was long recognised that marriage wasn’t for everyone – so I don’t think youngsters who seem reluctant about matrimony should be made to feel all that odd.

And since divorce and break-up is such a common part of their experience today, why shouldn’t they be cautious?

A happy marriage is a great gift, but it is not the only destiny for everyone: the single life has always been regarded as a vocation too.

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Mike Pence, the current Vice-President of the United States, has attracted ridicule for declaring that he never dines alone with a female colleague, and that if invited into the presence of a woman, he always brings along his wife. Mr Pence is a strong Evangelical Christian and he wishes to avoid accusations that he has behaved improperly, in an era when any gesture can be misinterpreted.

Mocked or not, it increasingly seems as though Mike Pence’s policy is wise. It now emerges that the previous US Vice-President, Joe Biden, is in hot water with a fellow Democrat, Lucy Flores, for allegedly kissing her (on the back of the head) and smelling her hair without her consent. Flores said she was “mortified” by Biden’s conduct, and that he has shown himself to be unfit to run for president. Biden himself says that he did not act inappropriately – he’s just a friendly kind of guy.

It certainly seems the Mike Pence precaution may be justified for men in high places: a chaperone at all times, when in mixed company.

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The “tight-fisted Scot” has been a standing joke among comedians for decades, summed up in the phrase, “You’ll have had your tea, Angus”
(so we don’t need to stand you a meal).

But a restaurant survey discloses that the most generous tippers in the UK are Glaswegians – with 91 per cent of these Scots leaving a decent tip after a meal, followed in second place by the diners of Belfast, and then Edinburgh and London. The most parsimonious gratuities were received in Sheffield and Leeds.

I’m sure there’s a Yorkshire saying that extols the virtues of parsimony, and the appreciation of “nowt”…

Follow Mary Kenny on Twitter: @MaryKenny4