Tuesday, October 25, 2011

It's A Frum Thing

Frum young men are not the same as their counterparts in the secular world in some very fundamental ways. A homework assignment I was marking yesterday underscored that in a very real way for me, just in case I hadn't noticed.

The assignment was to write an email to either your boss or your instructor explaining why you were absent from work or school and what you would be doing to make up for the lost time. Obviously the point of the homework was to see if the students had grasped the basic format/content rules for writing a business email.

97% of the students who chose to write an email to their boss used as an excuse for their absence that their wife had gone into labor and delivered, necessitating their absence that day. 64% of the students who chose to write an email to their instructor used the wife went into labor excuse. Keep in mind that my students are mostly young and mostly unmarried.

This exact same assignment used when I was teaching at two other colleges not under frum auspices got exactly zero responses using a wife in labor as an excuse for absence; yet, the students were the same age group as my students now.

Clearly our frum young men seem to consider marriage and family establishment as relevant to and a basic part of their lives at this age, even those who are not yet married.

I called an ex-colleague who teaches at a CUNY branch and asked her to do me a favor and just ask her classes at what age they either plan on thinking about marriage or at what age they believe that marriage is appropriate. I got her answer back this morning and it clearly showed a difference from my present students' answers. In her classes the females answered that the mid-20s were a good time to get married. The males answered that the mid to late 20s were a time to start looking. She went a step further and asked why they chose those age ranges. Virtually every student answered that they would be finished with college and/or graduate school and would already be working so they could afford to start thinking about marriage.

In the outside world marriage is seen as something that takes place when a person has gotten some life skills and is working. Inherent in the answers my friend got is the idea that marriage is something you do when you are finished with school and are independent financially. (Yes, yes, I know that there are some in the outside world who get married at fairly early ages--the exceptions rather than the rule.) In the frum veldt work skills and financial independence are not deciding factors as to when marriage is appropriate. Girls graduate high school and within the year are "in the parshah." Boys may finish a year in yeshiva post-high school and are "in the parshah."

I'll leave you to ruminate on the differences as regards to when to get married and under what circumstances. And you might want to think about how the differing attitudes between our frum young people and those in the secular world affect the lifestyles of married couples.


tesyaa said...

Three points:

1) Outside the frum world, it's much less common for parents to be willing to support a young married couple (sometimes there's a temporary exception if the couple is in grad school). If a young frum couple has a means of support (even if it means their folks have to work harder), why shouldn't they get married?

2) In the frum world, there are many more demarcations between married and single people - sheitels, a tallis in shul, sometimes a beard. The signs of marriage are obvious, visible status symbols. So are accessories like strollers and babies.

3) Young frum people need marriage in order to legitimately have a physical relationship with a person of the opposite sex. For some people, there is only so long they can control their desire for physical intimacy.

JS said...

You seem to be awfully close to saying getting married later in life (and we're only talking about a few years here!) when you're financially independent is better for the long-term financial outlook of a couple. Why not just come right out and say it explicitly?

Also, the issue seems to be not just what age to marry, but what age to have kids. These letter/email writers are not just assuming marriage, but marriage with a pregnant wife who is in labor. That not only suggests marriage at a young age, but a kid very soon thereafter, also at that young age.

Marriage at a young age without kids can actually be a huge financial boon - consider 2 incomes but only 1 rent check instead of 2. Food expenses are probably closer to 1.5 instead of 2, 1 TV/Internet/Phone package instead of 2, etc. It was my experience and the experience of most people I know that getting married finally allowed them to start saving some money. It's when you start having kids that the expenses start to go through the roof.

Also, why are students learning how to write an email/business letter in college? Is this an ESL course?

Abbas rantings said...

Rambam says explicitly that if u want to give a bracha tell sOmeone they should get a job, a home and finally a wife
If u want to curse then say they should get a wife, a home and then a job

tesyaa said...

JS, most "kids" in the frummer part of the frum world are expected to live at home until marriage, even if they don't find a shidduch until their mid-20s or older. It's not a question of one rent instead of two, it's one rent versus zero, since they're still living at home. (It's an exception if the parents live out of town; then it's OK to move to NY.)

rejewvenator said...

Ask the same question in other parts of the country (ie not major urban areas on the coasts) and you'll discover two things. First, that people marry earlier, and second, that kids then marriage is fairly normal and non-stigamtized, even among more religious Christians. Early marriage is a common value in traditional circles for many reasons.

The point about financial independence is critical. Non-Orthodox and non-Jewish families often support their unmarried adult children as they find their way through their 20s, but refuse to subsidize a married couple. The idea is that if you're getting married, you'd better be able to support yourselves, or else you're simply not ready for marriage. In the frum world, the opposite is true. Marriage leads to even greater levels of support and subsidy. The results are predictable.

Miami Al said...

Even in the coasts, it's NOT uncommon in the secular world to co-habitate and date for a number of years. It has become increasingly common to get married AFTER the first child, instead of before, but I would presume that that is still a minority. That said, those pre-marriage years are probably from that demarkation, parental support ends with the wedding, after that, it's adulthood...

20-somethings in apartments, even ones shared with their significant other, will often be furnished/decorated by "mom." However, married people rarely get their homes decorated.

A pre-child marriage period that is analogous to that would be fine, but the pressure to have children right away is part of what makes it VERY difficult to have a career. There is no "good time" to have children, career wise, but there are some REALLY bad times, like before you finish school and the first "dues paying" years of your career.

Dave said...

In the frum veldt work skills and financial independence are not deciding factors as to when marriage is appropriate.

So, the outside world listens to "plant a field, build a house, then get married", but it has become foreign to the frum world.

Anonymous said...

Al, et al: While, as you note, in the secular world it is not uncommon to get preganant or have a baby before marriage, there is a huge variation among socioeconomic groups. Most of those making and having babies before marriage are not professionals or highly educated individuals (putting aside single women who decide to have or adopt a child alone in her late 30's or early 40's before the biological clock runs out).