Being single and casual dating have gone mainstream. So how do young Europeans feel about marriage now?
- Young Europeans are redefining what it means to date, making it OK to be single—and making marriage unnecessary
- One-third of Gen Z and Millennials in Western Europe say they never want to get married, and most agree you don’t have to be married to accomplish other life milestones
- But many young Europeans still feel that single people are pressured to get married
We’ve known that Millennials have resisted traditional life milestones for a while now, opting to push once-typical goals of adulthood such as marriage and starting a family to the back burner as they explored their Extended Singledom (and dealt with recessions, student loans, and more). And though we found in our recent WE Life Milestones and Future Plans report that these goals were delayed even further by the pandemic, that doesn’t mean young Europeans are feeling antsier to achieve them. In fact, nearly four in five 13-39-year-olds in Western Europe agree, “I don’t care in what order life milestones were done in generations past. I will do it my own way” while three-quarters say their generation has the freedom to choose their own life path—and that includes settling down. YPulse’s recent WE Dating and Relationships report found that these generations are redefining what it means to date, bringing casual dating and hook-up culture into the mainstream, and normalizing the single life. In fact, 41% of 18+ singles say they’re just looking for a good time and not interested in settling down, and the vast majority agree, “it’s OK to be single.”
In this new dating landscape where flying solo is NBD and keeping it casual is the norm, how do young Europeans feel about the institution of marriage? These three stats from our recent survey tell the story:
More than one-third of young Europeans say they never want to get married.
More than just embracing the single life, many young Europeans are rejecting marriage altogether, with 34% agreeing with the statement, “I don’t ever want to get married.” Single Europeans 18+ are the most likely to say they’re not going to tie the knot (41%), as well as U.K. consumers (40%) and Millennial males (38%). And while that does mean that the majority of 13-39-year-olds in Western Europe do still want to get married, it also means that the institution of marriage is growing less and less important. In fact, in North America, the number of young consumers who say they don’t ever want to get married has increased +12pts over the past two years, which is likely on par with the rate of young Europeans shifting to the anti side of the marriage debate. Data from Eurostat also shows that marriage rates have declined among young Europeans in recent years, in particular as laws have made it easier for unmarried couples to have the rights of married couples. But their stance on marriage goes beyond legal reasoning and toward a cultural shift: nearly three-quarters of young Europeans agree, “I don’t have to be married to feel complete.”
The majority believe marriage doesn’t have to be the end goal of a serious relationship.
Just because they don’t want to get married doesn’t mean young Europeans want to be alone forever—it just means that marriage is viewed as an unnecessary step in their pursuit of partnership and that relationships are no longer a direct pathway to the altar. In fact, 53% of 13-39-year-olds in Western Europe disagree with the statement, “Marriage is the end goal to any serious relationship,” indicating a larger shift in cultural norms and traditions. What’s more, the vast majority of young Europeans believe you don’t have to be married to accomplish milestones that were once only expected of (and deemed OK for) married couples: nearly three-quarters of 13-39-year-olds in Western Europe say you don’t have to be married to have a family with someone, and even more say couples should live together before marriage. Young gens have been breaking cultural norms for a while now, and marriage is fast becoming another one they’re ready to leave in the past.
But the majority of singles feel pressured to get married.
Though personally young Europeans largely feel that marriage is passé and unnecessary, many still feel that the outside world expects it of them with 57% of singles saying there’s pressure on single people to get married. But it’s not just single people that feel this way; 55% of all young Europeans—single, coupled-up, or married—say that this pressure exists. Unsurprisingly, this is much higher among single young females, 73% of whom say they feel pressured to tie the knot vs 50% of single young males, indicating that while social norms may be shifting, tradition still has its hold. This differs by region, too. Among all respondents, young British are the most likely to agree that single people are pressured to marry (74%) while young Germans are the least likely to agree (35%). Germany has been known for low birth rates and high numbers of singles for some time now (though the pandemic may be shifting that) which could mean that not being married has already largely been destigmatized in the region. And as young Europeans as a whole continue to redefine dating and the importance of marriage, we’re likely to see this opinion permeate.
YPulse Western Europe Business users can access the full WE Dating and Relationships behavioral report and data here.
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