Are India’s youth giving up on marriage?

A fourth of millennials do not wish to marry and a fifth do not want children, data from the latest round of YouGov-Mint-CPR Millennial Survey shows

Surbhi Bhatia, Sriharsha Devulapalli
Updated1 Jun 2020
A still from Veere Di Wedding—a 2018 Bollywood film that touches upon the anxieties of a 21st century marriage.
A still from Veere Di Wedding—a 2018 Bollywood film that touches upon the anxieties of a 21st century marriage.

Millennials are quick to be blamed for ruining well established industries. Now, they may have also ruined the business of marriage. One in four young adults in India do not want to marry, fresh data from the YouGov-Mint-CPR Millennial Survey shows.

Among millennials, 19 percent aren’t interested in either children or marriage. Another 8 percent want children but are not interested in marriage. Among post-millennials (or Gen Z adults), 23 percent aren’t interested in either children or marriage. As in the case of millennials, 8 percent want children but are not interested in marriage. There is very little gender-wise differences in these trends.

Compared to millennials, a lower proportion of Gen Z aspires to marry, or to have children

Financial insecurity appears to be a key driver of such decisions. Among households with monthly income less than Rs. 10,000, 40 percent millennials said they were unwilling to marry. In richer households (with income more than Rs. 60,000), the survey finds only 20 percent to be disinclined. Richer millennials are also more likely to have children than poorer ones, the survey suggests. Given that the survey was conducted in the backdrop of an economic slowdown, intensified by fears of a looming pandemic, it is possible that the uncertainty about the future played a role in shaping the responses on marriage and children.

The YouGov-Mint-CPR Millennial Survey was conducted online between 12 March and 2 April, and covered a sample of 10,005 respondents across 184 towns and cities. Of these, 4,957 were millennials, 2,983 post-millennials, and 2,065 pre-millennials. The World Health Organization declared covid-19 to be a global pandemic just before the survey began, on 11 March. The survey was conducted jointly by Mint, the Indian arm of the global market research firm YouGov, and the Delhi-based think tank, CPR (Centre for Policy Research) to gauge the aspirations and attitudes of India’s digital natives.

Caste and class still hold sway over the marriage market, the survey shows. Among those who wish to get married, affluent respondents expressed a stronger preference for a partner from a similar income bracket, class, religion, and language. Relatively poorer respondents preferred to have a partner from the same caste as theirs.

Millennials refer to those who have attained adulthood in the early twenty first century, and grew up at a time when the world became digitally connected. Here, millennials refers to those born between 1981 and 1996 (aged 24-39 years now). Those born after 1996 (aged 23 years or below) are referred to as the post-millennials or Gen Z. The rest (40 years and above) have been classified as pre-millennials.

A part of the millennial aversion to marriage perhaps springs from frustration at trying and not finding a suitable life-partner. Aversion to marriage is higher among older millennials (those above 30) than among younger ones (those below 30). Among older millennials - who are likely to have been in the marriage market longer- 35 percent said they didn’t want to get married. Only a quarter of younger millennials expressed the same preference.

Given that only 14 percent of pre-millennials surveyed were unmarried, they have been excluded from this analysis. Of the rest (millennials and post-millennials), 32 percent of respondents were married. 57 percent were single, 8 percent were in a relationship but not married, and another 3 percent were previously-married (currently separated, divorced, or widowed).

Nearly four of ten millennials who wished to get married said they were fine with an arranged marriage. Only three of ten post-millennials said the same. Among post-millennials, those living in metros expressed a greater desire for having a ‘love marriage’.

It is worth noting that the share of respondents expressing their desire for a ‘love marriage’ is far higher than the actual share of such marriages in which people choose their own partners. As these pages have pointed out earlier, only a small minority tend to marry a partner of their choice even in urban India.

Among millennials, women were more averse to an arranged marriage than men. Of the non-married millennials, 49 percent of women said they wanted to have a ‘love marriage’. Only 41 percent of men from the same cohort expressed a similar preference.

This proportion was lower for those with only a college degree or a vocational education. Nearly a third of those with only school education said they wanted to marry after 30.

This is the second of a five-part data journalism series on the aspirations and attitudes of India’s digital natives. The first part examined the job aspirations of millennials.

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