Recently, the internet has been abuzz about the arrival of the 3-D printer, which now makes it possible to print objects, actual things, from your own home. Some folks are saying that it will create a manufacturing renaissance as entrepreneurial types can print their products with ease. Others are concerned with the need for regulations as it may be possible in the near future to print guns from your home. Thankfully, a recent article by Forbes.com brought the conversation back to the things that really matter -- like the fact that you can now print engagement rings!
Okay, it's not as life-altering as the ability to print guns, for sure. But, being able to press print and have an engagement ring appear, illustrates the inherent strangeness and seismic shifts that are happening in regard to the way we Millennials are approaching marriage. In general, Millennials are getting married later than previous generations. According to the Pew Research Center, just 25 percent of Millennials between the ages 18-28 have been married. Compare this to 34 percent of their Gen Xer older siblings at that age, and 48 perent of their Boomer parents. Looking at these stats, it is easy to assume, as many cultural commentators have, that marriage is on the decline and Millennials are the generation least interested in the cultural rite of passage of marriage. Yes, it's easy to assume, but you'd be (and they are) wrong.
Millennials are obsessed with marriage. With blogs like The Knot, Style Me Pretty, and TV channels such as TLC making every element of the bridal experience into its own show, the wedding obsession has never been so robust. We weren't actively putting off marriage, we were just busy worshiping at the Temple of TwentySomething, where sermons are all 140 characters or less and usually center around drinking, making mistakes, and leaving the settling down for the future. But now we are edging closer to our 30s, remembering that there was a rumor about a biological clock ticking that we heard somewhere, counting the early strands of grey, and getting ready for that adulthood we conveniently put off. We are ready to get married, we think...
So what does marriage look like in the age of printed engagement rings? It's highly customized and extremely confusing. Like Burger King orders, Millennials want to have marriage their way. They are picking and choosing traditions, utilizing modern technology, living together beforehand, getting married in barns, and eloping. One woman I know is happily married to a younger guy she met on Chatroulette. Another friend posted on Facebook that he had met a woman that morning and married her that afternoon -- it took me three days to understand that it wasn't a hoax.
This isn't to suggest that we are frivolous, but rather that we are painfully aware of how fleeting marriage and moments of true love can be. Conservatives and the older generations may disagree, but hey, even Newt Gingrich has been married three times! Millennials can recite divorce rates and growing up in "broken homes," but don't feel that any one way of getting married assures success. Yet another friend met the perfect guy, dated him for two years, lived with him for another two, got engaged, got married, got cheated on by him weeks after the wedding, and got divorced. She now jokes that living together is the "most meaningless test drive ever." When I told her I was engaged, she not jokingly told me to buy a ticket to Las Vegas the next weekend so I could skip the whole wedding debacle.
Though the wedding-industrial complex may have stolen the hearts, Pinterest boards, and wallets of Millennial women, many of these same girls remain ambivalent about the actual idea of being a wife. It's not that we aren't ready for the commitment, we just have the most to lose. With more women in our generation seemingly opting to take their husbands' names -- they want to be team players! -- they are losing their Google-able identity and the personal brand they took the time to build. And while married women make more than single women, the minute we start breeding there comes a "mothers wage penalty" where for every kid we have, we lose about 7 percent of our annual pay, according to a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Additionally, our household chores will likely increase -- according to a study by Marianne Bertrand and Emir Kamenica both of the University of Chicago, and Jessica Pan of National University of Singapore -- even if the woman is the breadwinner, she will do more than her share of household chores. The reverse is not true. (Side note: I'm pretty sure men not doing the dishes just became a political statement.)
Despite all of this, we Millennials still want to get married. Guys seem to embrace the institution comfortably -- happily doing what they think is their share of the chores, and frequently citing being a good husband and dad as some of their top indicators of a successful life. And us girls get over our misgivings because we have watched too many episodes of "Say Yes to the Dress" and anyway, according to the Center for Marital and Family Studies, 70 percent of us are already living with the guy we will marry and at a certain point you can only chose to step forward.
And stepping forward into the future means getting an engagement ring, right? Millennials are increasingly assuming that, like the rest of their wedding, the ring will be customized to their desires. Sure, some women still want the big diamond that shows their fiancé will be able to support them in the future. But others are working directly with jewelers on Etsy to create bespoke pieces, and still others are opting out of the whole diamond thing replacing it with a pearl or some other precious stone. Enter the ability to print a ring from your own home and suddenly you have expanded Millennials' ability to customize the start of their marriage tenfold. Of, course the ring is just one small example, but going forward it is likely that we Millennials will increasingly use new technologies to customize every aspect of marriage. Get printing!