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Valentine's Day report: seven ways marriage is changing

It seems Valentine's Day, when 10 percent of all marriage proposals take place, is one of the few constants in the institution of marriage. Fifty years ago, marriage was between a man and a woman barely into their twenties, of the same race and social class, till death did them part. But marriage today is wildly different.

In increasing numbers, Americans no longer feel the need to marry to have sex, have a baby, or even to have financial stability. In short, Americans are redefining what marriage is and why they marry. Here are seven marriage trends in the US.

Graphic: At what age do Americans marry?
Rich Clabaugh/Staff
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1. Maybe yes, maybe no

How have Americans redefined marriage? Simply put, marriage is being treated as more of an option today. The institutional model of marriage – in which marriage is a pragmatic system for providing kinship and mutual aid and raising a family – has given ground to a soulmate model, in which partners focus on finding an intense emotional connection.

The result? Americans’ expectations of marriage are far higher than those of their parents or grandparents. “We expect more from our marriages than we used to, and we need them less,” says Stephanie Coontz, a marriage and family studies expert and author of “Marriage, a History.” “People feel far less compelled to enter [marriage] – or to stay in it – if they’re not getting the intimacy they want.”

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