More and More Americans Say: I Don't

A bride-to-be tries on a wedding dress at Kleinfeld Bridal in New York City. CBS

When two lovers woo, they still say 'I love you.' The fundamental things apply. But as time goes by, it seems more and more young people, instead of saying I do, are saying they DON'T! As Tracy Smith reports, it's NOT the same old story:

Look at the faces of brides-to-be and you get the sense that they all want the same thing.

It's that moment - the split second on the wedding day when time stops, and all eyes are on her, as she stands before the world in a dress designed to stun.

At Kleinfeld Bridal in New York, the fantasy of the perfect wedding is alive. But beyond the sequins and chiffon, marriage itself is fading . . . fast.

For the past few decades, the percentage of married adults in the U.S. has dropped steadily, from 72 percent in 1970 to around 54 percent last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

"We're living longer outside marriage than ever before," said Stephanie Coontz, the author of a new book about the evolution of women in society.

"We're spending much more time getting education, establishing ourselves in jobs before we get married. And then when we get married, staying together till death do us part is a bigger challenge than it used to be."

What's more, the perception of marriage has changed.

In a new CBS News poll, seven in ten Americans say the institution of marriage is weaker now than it was 20 years ago.

So, is marriage obsolete?

Chuck Stetson, chairman of the Let's Strengthen Marriage campaign, says: Look at the data.

"I'm a business guy, and I look at research," Stetson said. "And the research shows here that people who are married live longer, they're healthier, they have a lot more wealth, and they're happier. I don't think that's 'obsolete.'"

When asked if married people are indeed happier, Coontz said, "Married people who are in good marriages are about as happy as you can get, followed by never-married single women 50 years and older who have discovered that, in fact, there are lots of pleasures in singlehood."

Jane Scandurra is one of them. A successful marketing executive, she owns her home, has her own boat, and a big circle of friends: Everything, it would seem, except a husband.

"The reasons you get married are no longer what they used to be," Scandurra said. "You used to get married in the past, you know, to have sex [because] no one had sex before marriage. You didn't have kids unless you were married. Now, people are having kids outside of marriage. And also, you know, women used to get married for financial security, because they didn't have any other way to sustain themselves. That's all gone."

Scandurra is co-producer of "Single," a documentary about the growing legion of the unmarried.

"I could very easily have gotten married, plenty of times," she said. "But I probably would have been a divorce statistic.

"I feel like I just didn't make a mistake."

A generation ago, the prevailing wisdom was get married . . . or else.

"The pressure to marry and the prejudice against people who didn't marry were so great that a woman who reached age 24 or 25 was considered highly suspect," said Coontz. "By the time she reached 25, she was what the Japanese called 'Christmas Cake': unlikely to be taken off the shelf."

And the expectations once you were married were different.

"There was a big Gallup poll in 1962, just one month before Betty Friedan's 'The Feminine Mystique' was published," Coontz said. "And they asked women, 'What makes for a good marriage?' And women said, 'Well, every marriage needs a boss.'

"And when sociologists interviewed people and asked, 'You know, do you have a good marriage?' They would get answers like: 'Yes, we have a very good marriage. He hardly ever hits me.'"

Of course, as women's roles in society changed, so did their views of marriage.

In this country now, women outnumber men in college, and nearly twice as many single women than single men own their own homes.

Still, even as the number of married people shrinks, poll numbers show the urge to tie the knot is strong.

Among those who have never been married, the vast majority - 77 percent - say that they would like to get married, someday.

Just getting ready to marry has become a spectator sport, with reality shows like "Say Yes to the Dress."

Is it possible that we love weddings but we're not so crazy about marriage anymore?

"Well, there is something to that, because there's such an excitement of the preparation for the wedding," said Mara Urshel, president of Kleinfeld.

In fact, while marriage falters, the wedding business itself is - paradoxically - on a roll.

Forty years ago, actor Wayne Rogers was on the TV show "MASH." Now, investor Wayne Rogers is a partner at Kleinfeld. He says it's very profitable right now.

"If there are more unmarried people than married people, that means that's that many more people who need to get married," he said. "That just opens our opportunity. That gives us a bigger market, because those people - well, some - they want to get married. It's a natural thing."

"Even if they don't stay married?" asked Smith.

"Even if they don't," Rogers said. "We well know, sometimes you can get married two, three, four times.

"Wonderful for business!" he laughed.

Which is not to say that "Till death do us part" is dead: One couple wed in 1951 are still married . . . happily.

Tom and Olga Scandurra will celebrate their 60th anniversary in May.

"I don't feel like I really worked at our marriage to make you happy," Olga told her husband. "It just came naturally."

"Made in heaven," he replied.

They are also the parents of a single daughter, Jane.

"Jane, she's so happy," Olga said. "Take care of a guy like a baby."

Jane cringed.

Her parents are fine with her status as a happily single woman. The topic of marriage never comes up . . . well, almost never.

"You know that saying: for every woman there's a man? So, there has to be one out there," Olga said. "I don't know, maybe he's hiding. He's shy, like your father."

When asked if she would like to get married, Jane Scandurra said, "You know, I would love to be in a committed relationship, whether it be married or not. But I'd also love to be rich, and gorgeous, and two inches taller. But I'm not going to slit my wrists over that, either."

"There's still hope on the marriage front?" asked Smith. "There might not be on the 'two inches taller.'"

"Yeah, right," Scandurra laughed. "Yeah, I hope so. I would love to, yeah. With the right guy. It's got to be the right guy. Gotta be the right guy. Where is he?"

For more info:

•  Kleinfeld Bridal
•  "Marriage: A History - How Love Conquered Marriage" by Stephanie Coontz (Penguin)
•  Let's Strengthen Marriage
•  "Single" (Official Movie Website)

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