Despite the ongoing cultural conflict over marriage, most American adults still value the institution, and consider it an important part of a life well lived. While marriage is an eventual goal for most, it is not always an immediate goal. A 2012 survey conducted by Pew Research found that nearly equal numbers of men and women (83 percent and 84 percent, respectively) said that having a successful marriage was “one of the most important things,” or “very important” in their lives.56 But when we asked those who were not currently married if they would prefer to be married, just 47 percent of people said yes. Women were slightly more likely to say yes than men: 59 percent of cohabiting women and 51 percent of dating women (who were not cohabiting) said so, compared to 50 percent of cohabiting men and 42 percent of dating men. While the vast majority of unmarried adults desire eventual marriage, a large percentage of them appear to be in no particular hurry.
Whether or not someone prefers to be married can have much to do with the way they feel about their current relationship. So we asked heterosexual respondents who are cohabiting or dating if they or their partner is more interested in getting married. Thirty-four (34) percent of cohabiters and 26 percent of those who were dating said that both partners are equally interested in marriage, while 13 percent of each said that they were both equally disinterested in marriage.
However, one in three respondents expressed that their level of enthusiasm for marriage did not align with that of their current partner. In these cases, are (heterosexual) men or women more likely to want to get married?
Women report little gender distinction in who they believe desires marriage more: 18 percent of women report they want to get married more than their partner, while 16 percent report that their partner wants to get married more than they do. Men, on the other hand, perceive things quite differently. Only seven (7) percent of men believe they are more interested in marrying, but 24 percent—over three times as many—believe that their partner is the more interested party.
Why the gender disparity in perceptions? It could be as simple as men are less likely to want to get married and that their girlfriends overestimate their enthusiasm. It may be, however, that men downplay their interest in getting married (on surveys), or that men and women are both poor judges of the level of enthusiasm of their partners for marriage. All we can state for sure is that men perceive women as more interested in marriage, but the data doesn’t really suggest that their perceptions are correct.
56 Patten, Eileen and Parker, Kim. “A Gender Reversal on Career Aspirations.” Pew Research Social & Demographic Trends. April 19, 2012. Retrieved August 26, 2014.
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