Young and married

- in Feature

Millennials have acquired the reputation of killing marriage. So why do some still choose to marry young?

”Before getting married, I need to land a job in the city first. Then my hubby and I need to find an apartment together and have the time to move in properly. When all of that is done, we need to adjust to living together and maybe do that for two years. Then he can pop the question.”

When I ask my post-quarter-life-crises friends about marriage, this is usually the answer I get. It’s of no surprise, if you google Millennials and Marriage, you won’t find a positive correlation. They have acquired the reputation of not only being the most hated generation but also of killing marriage. According to SCB, the number of marriages in Sweden has shrunk by 10 percent over 10 years. Millennials (born between 1981-96) are marrying at an average age of 34 compared to the silent generation (born between 1925-45), who got married at 23.

What explains this trend? Thankfully, Nina Gren, a senior lecturer in Social Anthropology at Lund University, could answer my question. ”To begin with, one must look at the change of cohabiting laws in Sweden.” The now 17-year-old law, called the Cohabitation Law, entails that two partners that move in together share equally the property and the goods of their joint household. Couples must sign a cohabitation agreement in advance if they wish to organize their partnership differently than the law. ”Thanks to the Cohabitation Law, the more vulnerable partner in the relationship can still be protected without having to get married.”

Dr. Gren continues to explain that new methods of reproduction, freezing eggs, or buying sperm, have correspondingly challenged the traditional nuclear family model. ”The stigma around less traditional ways of building a family is not as significant today as it used to be.”

”So why do we marry later?” I asked Dr. Gren. She answered that in Sweden today, we are allowed to be ”young” a lot longer than previous generations. ”Some of my university students don’t even consider themselves to be adults.” Dr. Gren explained that Swedish youths today don’t have the same pressure or incentives to grow up quickly and can afford to take their time to mature into adulthood. Marriage is considered by society an adult commitment, an emotional and economical investment for the long term. Millennials don’t take that lightly and don’t want to jump into it while still feeling young and inexperienced.

However, as with any trend, there are outliers. According to SCB, in 2018, 5400 people between the age of 20-24 got married in Sweden and 52 of them in Lund. Today, why would anyone get married young? No one better to ask than Sandra Garcia Sanz, a 25-year-old customer service employee who’s already been married for two years.

Illustration: Jesper Ericsson

Sandra Garcia Sanz was born in Spain, but at seven years old, she moved to Sweden. At her last high school year in Stockholm, she met Hampus Kalén, and they got together when he was 17, and she was 18. While they were studying for their bachelor’s, they were doing long distance for three years. After her bachelor thesis, Sandra moved in together with Hampus in Lund, and she started working while he finished his master’s studies. One night when the couple was supposed to go on a date, Hampus, through a thought-out plot, managed to lure Sandra the whole way home and waited for her there, standing on one knee.

”I was profoundly surprised, but it was a clear yes for me”, Sandra Garcia Sanz told me. Afterward, she directly called her closest friends and family. They all asked the same things; ”Wow this early, are you sure about this? You are still so young, where is the rush?” And ”Are you pregnant?”.

However, Sandra explained to me that even though they all asked these questions, they were supportive and happy for them. I asked Sandra what she thought about marrying this young. She explained that it had been clear from the start for both that they would end up together. They had already been together for five years and lived together for two, so she doesn’t understand what would make any difference to get married now or five years later. ”People that are 30 and marry someone they’ve only known for one year don’t get that question”.

When asked why she believes not more people marry young, Sandra answered that marriage is based on compromise, and that scares young people, especially those in their twenties. According to her, in very individualistic cultures, like Sweden, the idea of being tied to someone during one’s youth probably makes marriage look less attractive. “So, when should one get married?” I asked Sandra. She answered that if you’ve known your partner for long and have lived with them, there is no right age. It should just feel right, and when you know, you know. Sandra ended by saying that marrying young doesn’t need to mean that you care about marriage less, it just means that you’re ready to commit earlier than the norm.

Although cohabitation is a valid alternative for marriage today, Dr. Gren argues that marriage will never lose its status entirely. Marriage signals a commitment that one is entering a new stage in one’s life. It also informs one’s close-knit community that one has chosen a partner to do it with. Plus, some might even consider it romantic.