Don’t you want kids?” Surprisingly, when someone delays their marriage, this is the more common question they are asked. In a country which is as pronatal as India, parenthood is a desirable state, where ‘vansh’ (or ‘progeny’) help to continue the family legacy.
As per the Sample Registration System demographic survey (2017 SRS survey), Census India, around 24.7 per cent in urban India got married between 18 and 20 years of age. The corresponding figure for Census 2011 was 29.6 per cent.
“I am is reportedly the shortest sentence in the English language. Could it be that I do is the longest sentence?” – George Carlin
What is changing around the world? Not just in India but globally, more and more urban youth are increasingly postponing their marriage, either by choice or due to circumstances. In a face-off between career and marriage, career seems to be taking the lead. And in tandem, childbearing is taking a backstage.
Within the Asian region, such trends were first observed in Japan and more recently in South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, China as well as India.
Asian trends in age at the time of marriage
The emphasis on lineage and ancestor worship is particularly pronounced in Asian countries like India, China, Japan, etc. As per a study by Bumpass, Rindfuss, and colleagues (Bumpass et al. 2009; Rindfuss et al. 2004), marriage is viewed in Japan and East Asia as a “package” of family expectations and obligations that may be increasingly unattractive to well-educated young women and men.
As per the recent survey of East Asia forum, In Asian countries less than five percent of women are unmarried by the age of 50. However, over recent decades, countries in East and Southeast Asia have seen a significant decline in marriages.
This in turn, has directly contributed to a decline in the fertility rate to ultra-low levels as there are few instances of childbearing outside marriage in most Asian countries.
In China, though marriage remains near-universal, a trend towards delayed marriage is clear among well-educated city dwellers while cohabitation and divorce cases are rising.
The modern form of the family, exemplified by Europe and the U.S., is characterized by low fertility, late marriages and nuclear families.
This has greatly influenced urban youth in Asian countries like China, Taiwan, Korea, India, Japan, etc. who are caught in the crossfire of modernization and global industrialization, and are actively emulating Western culture.
The gradual decline in the number of urban Indian ‘marriages’ seems to be a reflection of the changing times. The concept of an Indian marriage has also undergone a sea change as compared to the earlier generation. In this 21st century, people are much stronger and more independent than they were ever before. People do not want to get married or adjust, they want to focus on their career. They want space and want to live with their lifestyle. And when this continues to happen, there will be no one to carry forward their legacy, tradition or culture. There will be no descendants for the inheritance of their possessions.
In countries such as Japan, Taiwan and Myanmar, about 20 percent of women currently in their 20s and 30s could well remain single when they reach their late 40s.
While women and men, especially in urban areas, have started to delay marriage, the average age of women’s first marriage across Nepal and India is still the youngest across all regions. It increased from 19.3 to 20.8 between 1990 and 2010, while that of men increased from 24.1 to 25.0 years.
In India, as of 2011, men were getting married at the age of 26.0 whereas women were getting married at 22.2 with a noticeable age difference of three to eight years.
As per the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), infertility rate is high among women in urban areas. This may be either due to their changed lifestyle or a later age at first marriage.
There are numerous factors which are contributing to an inclination towards later or less marriage among the urban youth throughout Asia.
When couples first meet, it’s not clear whether their expectations in life are and will remain the same. They might graduate, get married, work for sometime and find out that they’re actually completely different from each other. So more couples are opting for a long courtship period where they get ample time to woo and bond with each other.
The current generation is more oriented towards earning their own livelihood. The advent of personal property and savings has given rise to a more responsible attitude towards marriage. They want complete freedom to be able to control and utilise their earnings, be it independence from their parents’ or from their spouse’s interference. This is perceived as one of the key criteria of ‘adulthood’.
The new-age generation is not always ready to make an emotional commitment with the first person they get romantically involved with. They want to explore life and live by their terms before making any longterm commitment. And rather than face compatibility issues later, they are willing to wait for the ‘perfect’ partner.
Physical and mental stress:
The rigours of work and demands of running a home has changed drastically, bringing with it entire baggage of physical and mental stress.
An increasing number of youngsters are seeing marriage as a place which will only precipitate their stress levels.
Work demands of late imply a certain way of life that is incompatible with a family. With people having erratic work schedules and an increasing pressure to socialise with their office colleagues, many youngsters are preferring to stay away from a married life.
“Marriage can wait, education cannot.” – Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns
Higher education has opened up multiple avenues to pursue academic and professional interests without being bogged down by an early marriage. Full-time studies and a family aren’t necessarily compatible.
As per the NFHS survey, since the time it takes to get an education has increased, it has simultaneously pushed back the marriage age. With increasing levels of educational attainment among women, the survey indicates that infertility rate is also on the upswing.
India, Bangladesh, Singapore, Thailand and Myanmar – are showing patterns of delayed marriage among women – especially among the highly educated.
There is an increasing perception these days that marriage and childbearing drastically change a person’s life. Rather than being completely tied to the responsibilities of running a home, both men and women are veering towards living a separate life where they are free to choose their friends, their hobbies and their pursuits.
Cohabitation on the rise:
Some of the motives for getting married usually include love, children, stability, social status, and independence from one’s parents. Modern couples can accomplish almost all of a married life without entering into a binding marriage, so there is a propensity to just date someone and enter into a live-in relationship when they want to show a little more commitment to each other.
Sexual mobility, extramarital inter-relations are also other rising trends which are allowing people to opt for non-marital relationships.
Due to work commitments, couples are often located in different ends of the world. The post-wedding period is magical, when a couple wants to spend all their time together. They are willing to wait until such time before tying the knot.
Until very recently, almost every woman living in urban areas in India 1was expected to dedicate their entire life to their husband’s home and merge their complete personality with their in-laws expectations.
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