Fewer college couples marry post-graduation

When Mariana Sorensen ’77 was a sophomore at Yale, she and her friends ate breakfast with a group of senior boys every morning in the Davenport dining hall. Most people would leave after they finished their meal, Sorensen said, but she often found herself remaining at the table for hours, in conversation with a certain senior boy who she described as a “champion long-time sitter” like herself.

Their morning liaisons never went beyond talk while the two were at Yale, Sorensen said, in part because she was dating the boy’s roommate at the time. A few years following his graduation, though, she reconnected with her breakfast companion, Alan Sorensen ’75, after staying in touch through mutual friends. The two eventually started dating, and have been married since 1981.

College has long been a place where young adults begin to think about the rest of their lives, and in many cases that includes marriage. But with a recent article in the New York Times indicating that 51 percent of women in the United States are single — and with research showing that long-term relationships between college students are on the decline — it seems the old cliche that women attend an Ivy League school to snag a successful husband is obsolete. Although most Yalies say they eventually plan to get married, many students said as long as they are in college, they will only be thinking about marriage in the abstract.

Lauren Taft-McPhee ’06 said although none of her friends from Yale have gotten married since graduation, she knows several couples who were together in college who are now engaged or living together. While her own parents met at Yale and married afterwards, she said, her experience around the time of her own graduation was that marriage was by no means a priority among her friends.

“Graduation is a turning point for a relationship,” she said. “I think marriage is still on people’s minds, but I think it’s less that people get married right away. Instead people decide if they’re going to take that next step together, like moving to the same city.”

United States census data indicates that the average age at which people get married has risen consistently over the last several decades for both men and women, which could explain why the percentage of people who meet their spouses in college has steadily declined in the same time period, University of Texas at Austin sociology professor Norval Glenn said. According to a 2004 study he cited, almost 40 percent of married or divorced women who graduated from college in the years leading up to 1955 met their first spouse in college, but that number has dropped to just over 15 percent today.

Administrators at the Association of Yale Alumni said the University does not keep track of alumni marriages, but some students said anecdotal evidence indicates that at least in previous generations, marriages between Yalies were relatively common. Elizabeth Dohrmann ’06 said in her first year in college, she lived with six roommates, two of whose parents had met and started dating when they themselves were Yale freshmen. But while she and her friends would joke about marriage, Dohrmann said, none of them could imagine being in a similar situation.

“We did think about it, and how young we were, and how we couldn’t imagine making a commitment in that way,” she said. “At the end of freshman year, we sort of looked at each other and said, ‘Well, I guess, we missed the mark on that.’”

Although some current Yalies said they could not imagine marrying any of their classmates, many students and alums speculated that Yale graduates may eventually be attracted to each other years out of college because they share the common experience of a Yale education, or because of the values that drove them both to Yale in the first place. Recent research also indicates that increasing numbers of college graduates are marrying partners with similar education levels, which could be because college-educated men have begun to look for a spouse with high earning power, Yale sociology professor Julia Adams said.

Adams, whose research is concentrated on the sociology of elite ruling families, including their marriage patterns, said another reason why Yalies may tend to marry each other is proximity, which many psychologists cite as one of the three main determinants of attraction.

“It sounds so unromantic, doesn’t it?” she said. “But what every sociologist of the family will tell you is that statistically, people are more likely to marry those with whom they come into social contact.”

Still, Glenn, who co-authored a 2001 report entitled “Hooking Up, Hanging Out and Hoping for Mr. Right: College Women on Dating and Mating Today,” said there has been a definite decrease in marriages between college students who met at school, in part because most current students are simply not ready to think about matrimony. Glenn said that judging by the women he interviewed for the report, who mostly came from northeastern universities, including Yale, students generally approach college relationships as “recreational.”

Andy Davis ’09, who has been dating Laura Rapin ’09 for over a year, said his experience has been that relationships at Yale with long-term potential are the exception rather than the rule, although people do not necessarily actively avoid them.

“It maybe happens, maybe doesn’t,” he said. “But at least among the male population here, there are few guys out there who are seeking the relationship status.”

Kerri-Ann Anderson ’03 said when she was a student at Yale, she found that her peers were more concerned with “hooking up and partying” than with looking for a meaningful relationship. She said by the time she met her husband — fellow Yalie Joshua Griggs ’03, whom she got to know when they started working together in the Yale fellowships office — she had “had it” with the Yale dating scene. Although she and Griggs married in fall 2006, her situation is unique among her friends, Anderson said — in that no one else she knows from Yale found long-term love in college.

But Alan Sorensen said he thinks the daily social interaction all students have in college leads to an automatic intimacy that may be better for a long-term relationship than “dinner-and-a-movie” dating. Even though he did not become involved with his future wife until they had both left Yale, he said he thinks their conversations in the Davenport dining hall allowed them to get to know each other in a relaxed atmosphere without the “artificial excitement” of conventional dates.

“We developed a kind of familiarity that we realized later had never left us,” he said. “Being in college sometimes makes traditional dating somewhat awkward. If you’re sharing a bathroom with someone, a little of the mystery might not be there. But at the same time, you get a sense of how much fun it is to be with a person.”

Glenn said despite the decrease in dating and long-term relationships in college, he has “a very strong impression” that people who went to college together do still get married, but they wait to do so until several years after graduation. This pattern could give the impression that fewer Yale alumni are getting married than actually are, he said.

But most Yalies and recent graduates said that for now, thinking about getting married takes second place to considering career possibilities, classes, homework and what to wear next Saturday night. Taft-McPhee said that while she was at Yale, she occasionally thought about marriage, but that she was actually relieved to be single upon graduation so she did not need to worry about the future of her relationship.

“I really think that in college people don’t tend to think about marriage as much,” she said. “It’s when you get out of college and you’re in the workplace with other people who are married that it starts to become an issue.”

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