Is Your Relationship Moving at a 1970s or 2010s Pace?

We tend to think of the 1970s as an especially libidinous time, the pre-AIDS era when urban sophisticates drifted from one lover to the next in a druggy haze and even suburban squares got freaky with key parties and wife swapping.

But as a new animation from The Verge shows—based on a 2017 survey from Stanford University—relationship trends in the 1970s were actually a lot more traditional than they are now. Compared to their millennial counterparts, people in the ‘70s seemed to have rushed en mass into the bonds of holy matrimony.

Living Together vs. Marrying

After only half a year of knowing each other, 6% of ‘70s couples were married, compared to 2% of couples forty years later. Meantime, a full 15% of 2010s couples had moved in with each other by this point in their relationship—a far larger number than the mere 4% in the ‘70s.

If we look at where couples are at the one-year mark, about a third of the ‘70s couples had gotten married, as compared to 7% of modern couples. But it’s not like modern couples are avoiding commitment: 35% are already living together, whereas over half of the ‘70s couples were still only in the “romantic” stage eighteen months after meeting each other.

Dating vs. Living Together

As the data animation progresses, a pattern emerges. Of the ‘70s couples surveyed, most went straight from “dating” to marriage.  Their 2010s counterparts are spending a lot more time living together before getting married (if they even get married at all: 20 years after meeting, 8% of the modern couples surveyed are still cohabitating without bothering to put a ring on it.)

Why are modern couples more wary of getting married? As usual, money is the most likely culprit: weddings are much more expensive than they used to be. As shown in this article from Buzzfeed—written in 2017, the same year as the Stanford study—a modern couple has to deal with a steep markup in wedding vendor prices. Comparing adjusted-for-inflation rates between 1974 and now, Meg Keene of A Practical Wedding found staggering increases:

Expenses Rose Exponentially

  • Ceremony expenses have grown by more than 500%
  • Flowers cost 483% as much
  • Photography is nearly 1000% as expensive
  • Wedding cake has seen a 212% increase
  • Catering has risen by over 400%

Overall, Keene found that a 2017 wedding would cost nearly five times as much as a 1974 wedding in inflation-adjusted dollars. And that was two years ago; prices have only gone up since then.

So what is a cash-strapped Millennial couple to do? Put off marriage indefinitely, or at least until they’ve paid off their school loans? Elope? Or dive head first into the modern wedding experience and worry about the bills later, as the marriage-industrial complex would probably prefer? Increasingly, fewer couples are going for that third option.


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