Traditionally, the summer months mean making travel arrangements to attend the weddings of friends and family. However, for Millennials and subsequent generations, fewer and fewer dates may be blocked off their calendar.

According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 25 percent of Millennials will never get married. While there are numerous incentives to motivate young people to get married, these new generations continue to delay the practice or shun it altogether.

Self Exploration Over Marriage

Man hiking with a mountain in the background
Man hiking with a mountain in the background

Everything in our world is more accessible than ever before, with technology connecting everyone globally in various ways. For young people today, the world is their oyster.

Whereas, in the past, it would cost a fortune to travel to another continent, only to then labor through navigating a new culture, language, and city. Nowadays, though, we can fly across an ocean on inexpensive budget airlines, download a language course onto our phone to practice in-flight, and read numerous blogs to point us in the right direction to find what we want once we land.

While that example is specific to travel, with modern technology, we are constantly exposed to any and every interesting opportunity the world can offer. Why wouldn’t someone pursue them to their heart’s content?

Could that be a reason why marriage rates are dropping? Are young people prioritizing career, life experiences, and self-exploration over attaching themselves to another person for (possibly) the rest of their life? That may be true, but what is true is that tech is impacting the courtship process, whether we like it or not.

Dating in the Digital World

A man looking at his phone while sitting on a bed
A man looking at his phone while sitting on a bed

When writing about marriage and mentioning opportunities and technology, we have to mention how the digital world has changed dating. First, there came online dating sites such as Match and OkCupid, with mobile apps like Tinder and Bumble taking the world by storm not long after.

Although with the rise of online dating, one may think that the process of finding a mate has been streamlined, the results are a bit of a mixed bag.

In big cities with many young single inhabitants, which are what Stanford labor economist Paul Oyer includes as “thick markets,” the dating scene via apps can often become disillusioning. Oyer himself noticed many similarities between the online dating world and his labor economy studies when he, once again, entered the dating scene.

Oyer presents that match-dating technology should be able to provide users with options that have a higher correlation with the user’s preferences. Present dating app tech sadly, though, does not meet those criteria.

Given Oyer’s proposal, versus the actual results, app culture could be steering its users down a perpetual casual romantic lifestyle, one that normalizes superficial interactions over deeper connections. After all, if users were constantly not matching with appropriate mates, why wouldn’t they keep searching when an entire city of potential partners is a swipe left away?

Another economist, Justin Wolfers, suggests that online dating has actually flipped the courtship process on its head. In the pre-online dating days, we would determine compatibility, then discover our mate’s attributes. Now we discover the attributes we are looking for, then pursue compatibility.

Economic Attractiveness

A man and a woman embracing near an ocean during a sunset
A man and a woman embracing near an ocean during a sunset

Ever the economist, we would be remiss to not include Oyer’s insight into factors that make suitors attractive to both men and women. When it comes to physical attraction, looks are by far more important to men. As exemplified by the most attractive women on OkCupid receiving up to four times as many messages as “average-looking” women.

Although for women, looks aren’t as important as economic power and potential. Men in high earning professions, such as doctors and lawyers, are among the top messaged on the site, and men earning more than $250,000 get twice as many messages as men earning $50,000 or below.

While a woman’s love may be blind, according to the Pew, it isn’t free, as 71% of women said it was very important for a man to provide financial support to be a good husband. For men, 32% believed that it was indicative of being a good wife.

Oyer’s findings with OkCupid furthermore are in sync with conclusions made by the Pew. In the Pew’s study, the marriage slowdown comes down to a shortage in men that have stable jobs with a good income. Part of this is influenced by the rise of the gig economy.

A Change may be Afoot

With a dearth of economically viable men to choose from, will women lower their standards, or change their definition of a good partner? What will be the effect on population growth? It could be that fewer marriages result in fewer babies being born, which is a problem that has manifested itself in Southern European countries such as Spain and Italy, as well as in East Asian countries like Japan and South Korea.

One thing is for sure, though, and it’s that marriage will continue to evolve away from what defined it during the times of our parents and grandparents. As such, it remains to be seen how innovations in technology and the economy will influence that evolution as much as it has already done so, for better or worse.

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This article originally published on GREY Journal.