How Many Americans Believe Marriage Is An Essential Part Of Life?

Most Americans do not consider marriage is needed for a fulfilling life.
  • Over 90% of people in Western cultures get married by the age of 50, but 40-50% of these unions end in divorce.
  • Americans place a higher importance on having a fulfilling career than on being married.
  • Women and men feel very similarly about what is essential to a happy life, but they differ slightly with men feeling having a lot of money is important, and women placing more importance on relationships and children.

What do you think is essential to feeling fulfilled in your life? Does having the newest tech gadget matter to you, or the right clothing? Or, maybe being able to travel, and spend time with your family is important for you. Everyone has different routes towards their own happiness. A recent survey conducted in the summer of 2019 by Pew Research attempted to narrow down some of the more general things that make Americans happy. Participants were asked about issues such as how important marriage was to them, as well as being in a committed relationship, having a lot of money, having a career they enjoyed, and having children. 

Surprisingly, it was found that Americans actually place more value on having a career they enjoy, than on being married. The percentage of those who view marriage as an essential part of life in America is rather small, with 16% of men feeling this way, and just 17% of women. Age and gender affected how people answered, and it is interesting to look at what else women and men said they feel is important for them to lead a fulfilling life. 

Age And Gender Differences

A vast minority of men and women in the US agreed that marriage was an essential part of a fulfilling life, and how people viewed the role of marriage differed depending on how old someone was, if they were in a relationship or not, and what their gender was. Pew’s survey found older adults felt marriage was a more important part of life than those under the age of 30. Just 20% of people 65 or older felt that marriage was not important to fulfillment in a man’s life, but 37% of adults under 30 felt this way. In the same vein, younger adults were more likely to feel marriage was not an important part of life for women, and fewer older adults felt this way. 

What Is A Fulfilling Life For An American Man?

So, what IS essential to American men in order to lead a fulfilling life if not official coupledome? As mentioned above, American adult men were found to be more likely to feel that enjoying their career was essential to having a good life. 

When looking at adult men, just 16% reported that having children was important to life fulfillment, 20% felt that having a lot of money would bring happiness, 26% of men felt that being in a committed relationship was important to a fulfilling life, and a total of 57% said that having a job or career they enjoy was an essential part of a meaningful and happy life. 

In order of importance for men, an enjoyable job trumps all by far, being in a committed relationship comes second, having a lot of money is third, and the least important part of a fulfilling life is being married, and having children. Maybe this is why the show was as it was. Similar to women, but money and children come last for women whereas married and children come last for men. Interestingly, 59% of men said that being in a committed relationship was important to them but not essential, and 65% reported that having a lot of money was also important but not essential, which tended to mirror women’s responses. 

What Is A Fulfilling Life For An American Woman?

Most American women pay a lot of importance to having a sound career. Image credit: Opolja/

Women in America were found to feel much the same as men, when it comes to what constitutes a fulfilling life. Just 15% of women answered that having a lot of money was essential, 17% of women felt being married was essential, 22% said that having children was essential, 30% said that being in a committed romantic relationship was essential, and 46% of women reported that having an enjoyable job or career was a key to feeling fulfilled. Differences lie in the fact that women place more importance on relationships and having children, and more men tend to feel that an enjoyable career and having a lot of money are essential to feeling happy. 

Marriage And Divorce

According to Pew Research, US marriage rates have fallen steadily since 1960, but have now stabilized. About 50% of all adult Americans over the age of 18 are now married, and the percentage of Americans who have never been married is rising. 

With a divorce rate of about 50% in the 1980s and 1990s, it could be that a high number of people do not now find marriage essential to a fulfilled life, as they may have been the children of divorced parents. These people may feel that searching for essential fulfillment elsewhere is wise. About 40- 50% of all marriages in the US still end in divorce, and the divorce rates for subsequent marriages is even higher. 

Interestingly though, according to the American Psychological Association, more than 90% of people in Western cultures do get married by the age of 50.  


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