When it comes to relationships, people can learn a thing or two from millennials. They are choosing to get married much later – and for good reason, experts say.
The median age for marriage is 30 for millennial men and 28 for millennial women. In the 1980s, men got married at 24 and women at 22. This trend of later marriage has become the subject of backlash from critics, who say that millennials are destroying marriage in pursuit of their personal goals.
But biological anthropologist Helen Fisher begs to differ. Their version of courtship, “slow love,” is actually a sign that millennials value marriage more than people have in past decades.
There’s a scientific basis to it, added Fisher. Feelings of attachment are forged in the brain; the longer you are with a person, the stronger neural connections become in areas linked to love. Fisher, a senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, asserted that this a recipe for a stronger marriage.
Millennial “slow love” can forge stronger connections
In an interview with the New York Times, Anne Kat Alexander spoke about her generation’s link to hookup culture. Like Fisher, she believes that marrying at a later age indicates millennials are putting more thought into marriage.
“Hooking up with someone doesn’t mean that millennials now don’t value marriage,” said Alexander.
Meanwhile, Fisher thinks that the generation’s sexual liberalism has aligned with the brain’s primordial circuits tied to slow love. In a study, published in the Journal of Neurophysiology, Fisher and her colleagues examined the brain activity of lovers as they look at pictures of each other.
Those who had fallen in love in the last eight months displayed greater neural activity in the regions linked to energy, motivation, focus and craving. Meanwhile, those who had been in love between eight to 17 months demonstrated greater neural activity in the areas linked to feelings of attachment. These findings demonstrate that long-term bonds appear to be neurological distinct from relationships that developed recently.
“Because feelings of attachment emerge with time, slow love is natural,” said Fisher. In fact, she posited that diving head-first into a new relationship before feelings of attachment develop may put one’s long-term happiness at greater risk. Research also showed that people who dated for at least three years before marriage are 39 percent less likely to get divorced than those who rushed into marriage. And millennial couples spend an average of six and a half years together before tying the knot.
“With slow love, maybe by the time people walk down the aisle, they know who they’ve got, and they think they can keep who they’ve got,” said Fisher.
It appears their strategy is working. Recent research found that the divorce rate has fallen by 24 percent since its peak in 1981. Meanwhile, only 16 for every 1,000 married women got divorced in 2017, according to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University. (Related: Millennial women are opting out of babies, raising pets instead of children.)
Fisher argued that young people are not less interested in commitment. Instead, they’re more attuned to what it takes to make a relationship last.
One major consideration for millennials is money. They are one of the generations that saw through the 2008 financial crisis; many of them saw businesses collapse and their parents struggle with debt and divorce. Years later, they are taking a more practical approach to marriage: asking about a date’s credit score, eloping or moving to a more affordable city.
For Fisher, today’s singles set a good example for younger generations.
Brain.news has more on the neuroscience of love.