Could ‘Serial Monogamy’ Replace 1-Time Marriage as Favorite U.S. Lifestyle?

Published April 5, 1990. I remember well the early 1970s when I was a graduate student at Florida State University. It was a time of transition for the nation and particularly for college students. Much of what was going on was being challenged and reconsidered, including involvement in the Vietnam War, university policies and authority in general, and the relationships between men and women.

The students at FSU and elsewhere in the nation also reflected many of the changing values of society, at the time questioning traditional family life: a man and a woman living together in a legal marriage and rearing children. It did not sound very exciting or fulfilling at the time, and many alternatives were suggested. One of my colleagues back then referred to conventional marriage as “plain vanilla” living conditions which was popular but not as exotic as other options being advocated.

Some suggested that traditional marriage – one man legally married to one woman for the duration of their lifetimes – was too restrictive and limiting. Serial monogamy became a buzzword of the ‘70s, suggesting that a man and a woman legally marry for a time, and then, when they “outgrew” each other, divorce and find other marriage partners more suitable for them at their new stage in life. It was suggested that a man or woman might marry as many as four or five times – serial monogamy – supposedly finding a more suitable partner with each trip to the marriage alter.

Obviously most of the alternatives to traditional marriage suggested in the 1970s did not flourish. Some are still found in society today and even advocated. One type, however, is becoming more popular. There is some evidence to suggest that serial monogamy, in a limited form, will become the most common form of marriage in the future. I will predict that by the year 2010, just two decades away, it will be more common to have married several times rather than just once. Let me explain why I think this will happen.

I do not think we will see the time when a person will have four or five marriages partners. Fewer still will follow the leads of movie star Mickey Rooney and others who have been married seven or eight times. I do believe, however, that with the marriage-divorce-and-remarriage syndrome evident today, we will reach a point where second and third marriages are more common than being married just once.

The majority of couples (53-56 percent) who have married in the United States since 1970 are expected to divorce. Some experts now believe that the divorce rate in the United States for those who have married since 1980 may reach as high as two-thirds. And if the remarriage rates of about 67-75 percent continue, it is easy to see the possibility of serial monogamy overtaking singular marriage in popularity.

And lest you think we are talking about a trend “out there,” consider this. In Utah in 1987, the last year for which statistics are available, 16,656 men married. For 5,131 (or 32 percent) it was a second or third marriage. The statistics were about the same for women. In 1980, by comparison, 16,792 men married, and only 24 percent (3,902) entered second or third marriages. Again, the percentage was similar for women. The trend seems evident. What will it be in the future? Serial monogamy or single marriage?

Plain vanilla may not be the most exciting flavor, but up until the recent past, it has been America’s favorite. Perhaps our preferences for both ice cream and marriages have changed.

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