George Clooney’s Engagement And The Truth About Marriage In America

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"George Clooney’s Engagement And The Truth About Marriage In America"

Clooney looks over his shoulder, thinking about the past. "It's time to let go," he says to himself. "It's time to be a husband again."

Clooney looks over his shoulder, thinking about the past. “It’s time to let go,” he says to himself. “It’s time to be a husband again.”

CREDIT: AP Photo/Axel Schmidt

Did you think it was just all your Facebook friends, or Facebook friends’s kids, going and getting themselves engaged? You would be incorrect. George Clooney, America’s Least Favorite Batman, has reportedly declared his intentions to wed Amal Alamuddin.

Important caveat: This news could prove to be totally false. Clooney’s camp has yet to issue a statement—the famouses love their statements—so he has neither confirmed nor denied these rumors. Never forget: Clooney loves pranks. (I hate pranks. Pranks are for frat guys and Toofer, Frank, and Lutz on 30 Rock.) But let’s pretend that it’s true. As Jonah said on last night’s Veep: if you put a story out there, “something will arrive that backs it up. That’s Journalism 101.”

Far be it for me to unravel the motivations of this tall, grey, handsome stranger. Maybe he was all set on the single life until Beyonce surprise-dropped her new album, and he listened to “Drunk in Love” and “Partition” and was like, “Whoa, marriage sounds pretty hot.” Maybe he finally got into Friday Night Lights and, like any heart-having human, realized he was searching for the Tami to his Coach. Maybe Matt Damon and Brad Pitt stopped inviting him to stuff because, look, not to be weird or anything, it’s just that it’s only going to be couples there, and where would George even sit?

In other thrilling marriage-related news: Jay Z and Beyonce are touring together this summer! (I’m on an exclamation-point quota here and I saved it just for this.) Summer dates for the “On the Run” tour are already up at Beyonce’s website. Which brings us to the key question: is marriage having a cultural moment? After years of high divorce rates and growing skepticism of institutions, is marriage making a comeback?

Beginning with the basics: Americans are waiting longer to marry than ever before. In 1950, the median age at marriage was 20.5 years old for women and 24 for men. Since then, the marriage age has been steadily rising, more sharply for women than for men, to a record high in 2011 of about 29 years old for men and 27 for women, according to census data.

Why the wait? “People wait until their financial and educational ducks are in a row, and their relationship ducks are in a row,” said Brad Wilcox, Director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. “They want to really get to know the other person first.” Not to say that people think marriage is an overrated institution in which they’d rather not participate. According to recent Pew Research studies, most Americans still consider it to be either “one of the most important” goals in their lives, or at least that it’s “very important.” “For most people, [marriage] is a brass ring,” said Wilcox.

The number of newlyweds—that’s people who get married in a given year, out of all who are eligible to get married that year—isn’t that low for Clooney’s age range. “I was surprised,” said Gretchen Livingston, senior researcher at Pew Research Center. Citing data from 2012, she said, “When you look at people ages 45 to 64, the number of newlyweds in that age range is about 2 percent. Which seems low, but to put it in perspective, but among those ages 35-44, it’s about 5 percent…For people ages 25 to 34, the number was about 7.5 percent, and that’s kind of prime-marrying age and it’s still not super-high.” Total number of newlyweds age 45 and older in the U.S.: 700,000.

Though marriage later in life is on trend, remarrying has grown rarer. (Clooney, lest all the youths forget, was married once before: to Talia Balsam, from 1989 to 1993.) According to the 2010 Pew Research Study on love and marriage, only 29 percent of divorced adults say they would like to marry again. Men, however, are more likely to remarry than women. Compare that to the 61 percent of never-married men and women who say they see marriage in their future; only 12 percent of people who have never been married say they never hope to get hitched.

There’s less stigma surrounding less traditional living arrangements today than there has been in the past. “Marriage is less of a social necessity than it once was, in terms of having a public, permanent relationship with someone,” said Wilcox. “There’s a sense in which that’s much more acceptable today than 40 or 50 years ago.” Due in part to those shifting attitudes, the remarriage rate has been on the decline.

Which I guess just proves what we already knew: Clooney is not your average guy.

Speaking of stigma: Clooney is famous for his singledom, which if he were a woman would make him Jennifer Aniston and the coverage of this event would be something along the lines of “THANK GOD someone put a ring on it before this sad desperate water bottle spokeslady’s uterus shriveled up like a raisin in the sun and died with no small human inside it, thus rendering her life meaningless and without worth!” But because it’s George, good old “confirmed bachelor” George, everyone is more like: what sorcery is at play to make one of People magazine’s only two-time Sexiest Men Alive™ decide now is the time to make an honest gentleman out of him?

Maybe Clooney’s late-ish in life remarriage will spark a changing tide, both in how we talk about men (and woman) who take their time with knot-tying and in our attitudes about marriage more generally. So far, there haven’t been many studies about how the behavior of celebrities affects the personal and legal choices we make. But if celebrity fashion influences how we dress and movie slang alters how we talk, wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect that the behavior of high-profile individuals, especially those as well-liked as Clooney and Beyonce, influence our behavior, too? Stay tuned.

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