Marriage Rates Are Plummeting. Why Are Reality Dating Series So Popular?
Why the dating-and-marriage storyline still appeals so much to audiences who are increasingly opting out of the tradition.
by Joanna Weiss
Follow conservative punditry over the past few years, and you might think America is becoming a nation of unrepentant singles.
Last July, Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance warned a conservative think tank about a “civilizational crisis,” marked by declining marriage and birth rates, and promoted by the “childless left.”
Census data that shows low marriage rates among millennials and Gen Z-ers — only 29 percent of 18-to-34-year-olds were married in 2018, compared to 59 percent in 1978 — begets headlines bemoaning a “marriage crisis” or predicting “the end of marriage in America.”
But if the dream of marriage is dead, you wouldn’t know it from the trailer for the upcoming season of ABC’s “The Bachelorette.” The three-minute video, released last week, features a single schoolteacher named Michelle Young, a herd of healthy male suitors vying for her hand and a shimmering word cloud of courtship cliches:
“I’m looking for my soulmate.” “You give me goosebumps.” “When I’m with him, I feel fireworks.” Young declares that “I’m ready to fall in love,” and she wants more than just romance. “Miss Young,” one of her students says, “is looking for a husband.”
[The article then goes on to list many other current or recent reality dating programs]
All of this might seem terrifying to the conservatives worried that Tinder and liberals are destroying American marriage. Actually, collectively, they might be the most conservative shows on television.
As a group, all the way to F-Boy island, they re-enact and reaffirm a dating process that has less to do with 21st century swipe-right apps than 19th-century courtship rituals.
And for many years, viewers have lapped it up. One study from the data-tracking company PeerLogix found that dating show viewership spiked during the pandemic, even drawing viewers away from other genres.
The popularity of these matchmaking shows, which are watched at once ironically and aspirationally, suggests a different spin on the delayed-marriage stats.
The census data, after all, doesn’t address the question of whether singlehood is driven by a “childless left” culture or harsh economic reality, or whether young people intend to put off marriage for awhile or opt out of it entirely.
A few years ago, a spate of liberal books and articles marveled at a growing cohort of single women — who tend to behave differently from married women in the ballot box — and speculated about the political power they might hold if their numbers continue to grow.
…The fact that more people marry later in life has changed the institution, and by extension, the stakes around courtship, says Stephanie Coontz, a professor emeritus at The Evergreen State College and the author of Marriage, a History.
Older singles are likelier to already be financially independent and to prefer a union with an equal — which means they often have higher standards for a potential spouse. For singles surveying the landscape, “that gets very anxiety-producing,” Coontz says.
Reality TV showcases those modern anxieties in a place where the old-fashioned rules still apply. …
If reality TV reflects actual desires, then these shows are a telling statement about the culture wars — a suggestion that the dream of traditional marriage, the kind that leads to starter homes, little league games, joint IRA accounts and the attendant political priorities, is still very much alive, no matter your political persuasion.
In reality TV land, singlehood isn’t a newly desirable state, but rather a purgatory that people will exit as soon as their finances allow, or they meet the right partner, or an army of TV producers steps in to intervene. And these shows aren’t an anachronism as much as a cry for a roadmap — a shortcut to getting married once and for all.
The remainder of that article can be read on (Link): Politico
(Link): “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” – one of the most excellent Christian rebuttals I have seen against the Christian idolatry of marriage and natalism, and in support of adult singleness and celibacy – from CBE’s site