Wedding Woes: Are Indian Youngsters Giving Up On Marriage?

A recent survey about Indian youth has found that youth with higher education don't aspire to get married early. These days becoming a single father/ mother is a luxury.

Wedding woes

A recent report issued by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation found some concerning statistics regarding the status of marriages in India. The report, among other things, noted a fall in the number of youths who want to get married.

The report states that the proportion of unmarried youths is on the rise with Jammu and Kashmir topping the list. Moreover, its findings say, “the percentage share of the youth population (15-29 years) who are ‘never married’ has shown an increasing trend in the male population from 20.8 percent in 2011 to 26.1 percent in 2019 and a similar trend has been observed in the case of the female population”. The report has also revealed that, the population which has risen to 1211 million in 2011 and is anticipated to reach 1363 million in 2021 (with 27.3 percent of its population aged 15–29 years). By 2036, the percentage of youth would reach 22.7, the report adds. Coincidentally, the recent figure has come when the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of J-K is the fifth highest in the country.

According to another report by the government which was published in 2019, both states and union territories such as Jammu & Kashmir (29.1), Punjab (25), Uttar Pradesh (26.7), and Delhi (26.5) record the highest share of youngsters not getting married. On the other hand, the same report revealed that Kerala (18.3), Himachal Pradesh (20.8) Tamil Nadu (20.2), and Andhra Pradesh (20.7) have the lowest percentage share in marriages. In the case of adolescent women within the age bracket of 15-19 years; 11.9 percent have been married(by the age of 15) during 2005-06 which is now only 1.7 percent in 2019-21. The report also figures out another important aspect of matrimony like how it affects the age factor as well.

Apparently, the age bar for marriage seems to have increased over the passage of time too. It is noteworthy to mention that, “a significant reduction has been observed in the level of age at first marriage for women in the 25-29 years age cohort as only 52.8 percent of women have been first married by the age of 20 years during 2019-2021 as compared to 72.4 percent in 2005-06”. In case of males, in the age bracket of 25-29 were first getting married at the 25 years of age during the year 2019-21”. Additionally, this report reveals that the percentage of population(both males and females) of “never getting married category”is increasing over the years.

The recent survey report has not detailed any factor(s) or context (s) to understand the burgeoning percentage of unmarried youth but government officials have attributed this to ‘lifestyle and influence of the celebrities’. However, it has been found out from the survey that the cases of child marriages are getting reduced over the years. The population pyramid has also undergone change due to the declining fertility rates and increasing life expectancy percentage. In the coming years, the number of youth under 15 years are presumably going to decline and the responsibility of the country is going to increase towards aged people, the report further stated.

Apart from the findings of the survey, the following reasons can be taken into consideration to understand the increasing proportion of ‘unmarried youth’ in our country:

First and foremost could be economic instability which is haunting most of the current youth. And this specific issue got more aggravated because of the pandemic. Families with less than 10,000 monthly income are completely unwilling to get married. In the case of affluent households only 20 percent of people are reluctant to marry; as stated by one of the surveys done in the year 2020 (Mar-April).

Marital preference comes in the second position. In the era of online dating and social networking platforms, the frustration felt at not being able to find a match can be daunting. Fritzi-Marie Titzmann, in her book ‘Changing Patterns Of Matchmaking In India’ has also mentioned that “the upcoming matrimonial media allows youth a much wider range of choices now”. This wider choice can often lead to youth getting even more confused instead of deciding on the right match.

Moreover, in the Indian context, caste and class also play a role when it comes to choosing a marriage partner. Among youth, those who are willing to get married want a life partner from a similar income background, class, status, and educational bracket.

Then comes the ‘shift in the attitude’ on the significance of marriage. The youth with higher education don't aspire to get married early. These days becoming a single father/mother is also not considered taboo and many consider a single lifestyle "woke" and modern. The difficulty in finding the right partner with physical and emotional compatibility is another daunting reality of our society that makes most of the youth underconfident in entering matrimony. 

To conclude, the 21st century generation easily defines what should be the ‘marriageable age’ for them and does not shy away from being proclaimed as "single". As of now, Indian continues to be a very young country. And this proportion of youth could definitely play a crucial role in achieving the ambitious target of a sound economy. And the way the youngh choose to marry or build families will have a far reaching impact on tomorrow's economy.

(Bijayani Mishra, PhD, is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Sociology in Maitreyi College, University of Delhi. Views expressed in this article are personal)