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Paul Schratz - Life In The Schratz Lane

Canada’s wedding day jitters

Voices May 14, 2018

There's more hope for marriage than recent headlines might indicate, writes Paul Schratz. (Katerina Knizakova, Pixabay)

Reading the headlines about marriage last week, it would be easy to feel discouraged about the future of marriage in Canada. Try not to be.

On one hand, the Angus Reid survey results are as pessimistic as you might expect for a 21st-century Western nation where the prevailing narrative is that few people get married anymore and half of those will end in divorce. Statistics Canada doesn’t even consider marriage worth tracking any more.

The reality, however, and a closer inspection of the survey results, offers more reason for hope than you might expect.

First, let’s clear up the belief that half of marriages end in divorce. It’s false and has been for a long time. The actual odds that a couple who wed today will stay married is about 75 per cent. If they haven’t lived together before getting married it’s even higher. That’s not perfect, but it’s much better than the coin toss many people think a marriage is.

Yes, the Archdiocese of Vancouver is concerned about the decline in Catholic marriages. The number of weddings in the archdiocese has dropped by about 25 per cent over the past decade, to under 700 a year.

It’s why the archdiocese has made marriage and family a top priority in recent years, putting serious effort and resources into preparing people for marriage and supporting families with workshops and improved access to counsellors.

We’re organizing celebrations of marriage, such as this weekend’s Marriage Anniversary Mass, and this summer’s convalidation ceremony – the third time in as many years that the archdiocese has helped large numbers of couples with civil marriages have their unions blessed by the Church.

All of which is to say that despite the gloomy predictions there is great hope for marriage. Some of them are in the survey results themselves.

For example, the survey showed most Canadians regard marriage as a superior form of commitment to common-law relationships. They may not consider marriage essential, but they’re able to compare the two and see which comes out on top.

Offering additional hope is the finding that young people 18 to 24 are actually more pro-marriage than their parents, with more than half saying it’s important for two people who plan to spend the rest of their lives together to get married.

Most young people who have never married say they hope to get married (54 per cent); another 31 per cent aren’t sure. Only 15 per cent say marriage isn’t in the cards for them.

What surprised me most about the young cohort is their main reasons for not being married. Asked why they’re single and they tell you it’s because they haven’t found the right person, they’re not ready to settle down, or financial concerns.

Only 17 per cent said their main reason for being single is they “don’t believe in marriage.”

I suspect finances are a bigger factor than many people think. Sixty-six per cent of young people said cost is part of the reason they’re not married, and a full three quarters believe more people would get married if weddings “weren't so expensive and stressful."

Money is clearly on their mind, and no wonder. The average Canadian wedding and honeymoon costs more than $30,000. While there’s absolutely no reason it needs to cost that much to get married, it’s understandable that many are frightened and opt to live together instead. They’ll even do it while seeing it as inferior to marriage and despite the fact the divorce rate is 50 per cent higher among couples who cohabitated.

So this week’s paper is a celebration of marriage, with resources and stories of couples who overcame obstacles. In next week’s paper we’ll provide coverage of this weekend’s marriage anniversary Mass and the hundreds of couples being honoured.

Let’s leave with some good news. Last year 23,641 weddings took place in B.C., up about three per cent from 10 years ago. Over those 10 years, the number of marriages per year in B.C. has steadily increased, and 2018 is on track to beat 2017.

There are clearly some paradoxes between what Canadians tell pollsters and what is in their hearts, and their views on marriage, especially young people’s, are much more complex than the “marriage is vanishing” narrative we are being fed.