Over the weekend, I met a sweet, chatty old man while waiting to get new tires put on my car. He was excited about his upcoming 52nd wedding anniversary, though he’d known his wife much longer than that. They’d met in the first grade when, as a homework assignment, he’d struck up a pen-pal relationship with her. They kept writing to each other over the years and finally met when the Army stationed him in England, where she lived. He told me that when he saw her, he just knew.
I’ve watched several friends (and celebrities; how could you TomKat?!) go through painful divorces this year, and this old man’s story was almost enough to restore my faith in marriage. Almost. Because when I got home, my young, newlywed neighbors were having a long, loud fight about his cheating on her — and to germaphobe me, this is the ickiest part — in the bed they’ve been sharing.
As a member of Generation Y, I’m often unhappy with the negative rap we get, but I’ve got to admit: it doesn’t seem like we’re very good at this whole marriage thing. The overall divorce rate has been fairly flat for the last few years, according to the Pew Research Center, so it’s not easy to say whether we’re divorcing more. But since many members of my generation are delaying marriage, some experts and pundits say that means more of us are getting divorced. Most of us aren’t bothering with either. Just 20% of adults ages 18 to 29 were married in 2010, and nearly 4 in 10 Americans say marriage is becoming obsolete.
Whether that’s a good or bad thing, from a personal standpoint, is up to you. From a professional standpoint, as a life insurance agent, it might be cause to worry. A recent Northwestern Mutual poll found marriage was the top reason people purchased life insurance. More than half of life insurance purchasers said they were motivated to buy it in order to provide for loved ones. With more young people foregoing, or at least putting off, that crucial marriage milestone, won’t they also skip, or delay, purchasing life insurance coverage?
I guess it depends on how the industry approaches the challenge. Even without marriage, there’s still a need for life insurance. Many members of my generation are co-habiting, which often amounts to marriage without a ring. They’d be just as financially devastated as their wedded counterparts if one partner were to die unexpectedly. It’s also obviously still important for single parents, and, the Insurance Information Institute contends, it can be an important financial tool for single people living alone. Don’t forget that it can also come in handy post-divorce.
The trouble is, the life industry needs to let people know all that. All too often, life insurance is marketed as a for-couples-and-parents-only product. To stay relevant, carriers and, more importantly, agents on the front lines have to re-frame the discussion and educate clients and prospects. If not? Well, Gen Yers have proven they’re not afraid to shunt traditions aside; buying life insurance might become one of them.
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