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In the future, if medical technology is significantly advanced and humans live indefinitely, or at least for human lifespans have increased by tens or hundreds of years, how will marriage/divorce/monogamy be affected? What are reasons why marriage, divorce, and monogamous relationships would become more common, less common, or about the same as now?


Some thoughts:

  • The naive view might be that if technology is so advanced, people will indefinitely remain young unless they decline / cannot afford / aren't allowed treatments to keep them young. Having a young active body may encourage more casual relationships and cause people not to be married. However, I would argue that the usually more casual relationships of youth are related to chronological age / life experience, which obviously happen to be highly correlated with biological age, but is not caused as much by having a young body. So, even if people are biologically young, they may still get married because chronologically they've had some amount of life experience and feel like getting married.

  • If people live for hundreds of years, they will grow apart, so divorce will be a regular thing that happens after a few tens of years. So people will cycle through many marriages. Or knowing that this will happen, marriages will become much more contractualized and e.g. the marriage must last for X years before divorce is allowed.

  • Thinking of dating / marriage in terms of an sort of an optimal stopping problem or exploration/exploitation tradeoff, longer lifespans will allow for a much longer exploration phase, delaying the average chronological age at which people get married.

  • Two people who are biologically young could be vastly different chronological ages. The older one would have lived through many more historical events, had more life experiences, have more knowledge, etc. Think of grandpa with his wisdom marrying a 20 year old. In our current world, the main contribution of the 20 year in this marriage would probably be a young body, and also a youthful and energizing attitude. But if they are both people are biologically young, this is less of a relevant. So the chronologically older person may seek someone who is more compatible chronologically as well and has roughly the same amount of wisdom / experience etc. So this could cause stratification based on chronological age as well.

  • Depending on rules of wealth transfer between generations, marriage could take on more or less importance as a means of connecting people legally / financially / for immigration purposes, etc.

  • On the other hand, maybe marriage will still be very common but it will just increase the average chronological age at which people are married. Although two people may have the bodies of 25 year olds, they may chronologically be 50 years old, have had many explorative casual relationships, and now be very firm in their decision to remain married forever because they feel they've finally foudn someone very special that they will never want to leave.

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  • $\begingroup$ I suspect your thought on frequent divorces is the most likely one. However, older people are typically more conservative, less willing to make radical changes, and especially if they are religious (if I'm stereotyping here, please warn me off, but I'm pretty sure this is at least a general trend); you might see the 100+ year old people staying firmly together and shaking their heads over "all those youngsters who just can't stay happily married" or some such. You're also likely to see a delay in when people choose to have children if life expectancies have risen so high. $\endgroup$ – Palarran Mar 20 '17 at 3:27
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    $\begingroup$ You've already summed up most possible opinions on this. What's the question now? $\endgroup$ – Karl Mar 20 '17 at 4:05
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    $\begingroup$ Is this too broad? $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Mar 20 '17 at 7:05
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    $\begingroup$ Star Trek, in which humans live almost as long as Vulcans, covered this concept. Vulcans still mated for life, but humans changed marriage from a one-time oath to an on-going contract. Both parties in the marriage had to renew the contract every so often (every 4 years, for example), and this allowed each side to have a "way out" if the situation changed. Divorce, as we know it now, virtually disappeared. $\endgroup$ – Omegacron Mar 20 '17 at 14:29
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    $\begingroup$ A Daoist might argue that changes come and go, but we all strive to become unified. Is there any answer which could not be given as an answer to your question? There might be value in massively narrowing it down to one particular variant of immortality and one particular cultural group with their opinions on marriage. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Mar 20 '17 at 17:37
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Coming from a young marriage, a religion that places great emphasis on family life, and a wonderful TED talk, I believe that the evidence for monogamy and marriage may be strengthened with longer life spans.

  • Life-long, monogamous marriages are based off of several principles, including forgiveness, humility, service, and acceptance. Such successful unions will have prime, living examples which can teach those who are struggling or inexperienced.
  • Married people (IRL) have more sex than single people! As exciting as a new sexual conquest could be, why risk that when you have a very attractive person, who you know would love to have sex with you, right there!? (see TED talk) Throw in that biological immortality and you can have years of wonderful sex with a partner you have had many (and likely continuing) adventures with.
  • Married people tend to live longer, healthier lives. (see TED talk) Even with advanced medical technology, marriage could still have these effects of a "merely" improved life. Even little improvements over a long time makes a big difference!
  • There are up to 1,000 legal benefits under current US law. I doubt US law, and the law of most republics and democracies would be nimble enough to get rid of most of these in time. (see TED talk)
  • There can be other benefits, such as religious ones, but that is depends on the culture and religions a couple finds themselves in.
  • If there are are sexually transmitted diseases in this future, and there are only treatments (not cures) for particular ones, monogamy does provide protection from these. If you need to pay 5 US dollar/month for treatment for the rest of your life, and you have a good 100 years ahead of you... well, that $5 could have been put to another, more lucrative, use.

While I'm sure more thought would yield more, I do think there is a solid case for increasing monogamy coupled with longer life. Of course, this can be countered by societal influences. I still think monogamy (or near monogamy) would win out with longer lifespans.

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    $\begingroup$ This is a very good answer. I would add that people actually enjoy being married, too - having a loving partner waiting for you at home is one the best motivators for someone to give their best everyday. $\endgroup$ – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Mar 20 '17 at 13:25
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    $\begingroup$ When I was talking with my dad over whether to propose to my now wife, he mentioned that the best part of getting married (and having kids) is that you don't have to die alone. As life spans extend, as they do today, your chances of being old, mostly helpless, and alone increase. My grandmother has survived her husband 10 years...fortunately she has 4 of her 5 kids living within an hour's drive along with a herd of grandkids. I can't even imagine not having been married and living until 90 or longer. What would you do with those last 30 years? This is a great answer. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Mar 20 '17 at 15:36
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    $\begingroup$ On top of all the great points made here, there's also ancestry to consider. If people live (and remain young) for hundreds of years - and especially if they remain fertile for hundreds of years - it becomes really important to keep track of who you're related to, in order to avoid accidental incest. If you don't keep track of your kids, you might end up involved with a great-great-grandchild of yours without realizing it! (Gross, I know, but a pragmatic concern in the sort of society the OP proposes.) If you get (and stay) monogamous, you don't need to worry about all that. $\endgroup$ – Steve-O Mar 20 '17 at 17:44
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I think the only major difference you would see is a significant reduction in "biological clock marriages."

Biological clock marriages here being marriages that were timed around biological issues, such as:

  • Wanting to find someone before beauty fades
  • Wanting to have children while still physically able
  • And not wanting to die alone

I suspect some more or less "settle" as these deadlines approach, if the deadlines are significantly delayed or removed, well obviously you wouldn't see that. These issues could also play a role in marriage/divorce rates.


On the whole I suspect that people would still just be people, perhaps older and wiser people, but still just people. Most any marriage arrangement or configuration you can imagine has been tried by someone in some culture at some point in human history. Monogamy, polygamy, polyandry, arranged, young men to old women, young women to old men, same-sex, gender neutral, and even chaste, non-sexual, and asexual. Some people have even married their deity/ies. Forgive me I know I've left some out, but you get the picture.

Trust me if you can imagine it, it's probably been done. With all these variations and possible combinations it usually boils down to "the heart wants what it wants." Even in arranged marriages people make it work for the love of their family, traditions, religion and so on.

So... People will likely do what they would have done anyway.

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In the heartbreakingly beautiful SF Novel The Sparrow, a younger woman asks an older how she has managed to stay married for 40 years. She answers that she hasn't: she and her husband were married 4 times for 10 years at a time: every 10 years, she and her husband would come together, take thorough stock of themselves, and then decide whether to continue or not. I suspect any solution to the question you pose will ultimately have to come from the human heart, and this one strikes me as a good one.

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By current trends: More diverse. More personal.

Traditionally marriage was a matter of the community, a pact between two families, which transformed to marriage being a religious institution when local community and local congregation were largely synonymous. With people mostly no longer living in single religion communities and marriages between religions being more acceptable, marriage is returning to being secular arrangement between people. Since such arrangements are more personal and not required to match specific religious dogma, the arrangements will become more diverse and matched to the needs of the people involved.

There is no particular reason why "gay marriage" or polyamoria would be particularly controversial in the future, for example. The controversial aspect is that they do not match the traditional model of religious marriage, once the institution of marriage adjusts to the reality of freedom of religion, the controversy will disappear.

A possible side effect of marriages becoming more personal is that they might become more of a private affair. The large festivities associated with marriage are from their nature as shared matter for the community, congregation, village, extended family. None of these might be particularly relevant with more personal marriages, so there might be very few people involved without any special celebration.

By your scenario: Marriage contracts might be time limited with options for renewal.

Why have divorces when it is much more practical to just accept that people might grow apart in the future? Oddly enough this would not necessarily reduce the commitment people have for their marriages. Reality bites whether you formally acknowledge it within your institutions or not.

Having agreed upon time limits would reduce divorces as people would simply wait for the marriage to end naturally. It might even increase commitment as people might be expected to make effort to "work it out" until the term runs out. It is much more reasonable and realistic to expect people to put effort to their marriage for a few years more than for the rest of their lives.

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Monogamy is changing already - the various forms of non-monogamy such as polyamory and open relationships are appearing more often in our society as people realise that they have choices, and that having affairs and lying are far more damaging than being honest from the start.

Saying that - I feel that the legal aspects of marriage will stay stronger than just cohabiting. If people get a true benefit from marriage then it will be used for taxes / security / etc.

To counter that I think that marriages will become more like a legal contract. There will be fixed term marriages where they can be extended at will, or where they can be let go without any acrimony. Maybe there's an extending marriage. You get married for one year, then five years, then can choose to make it permanent if you both wish (or just continue extending it every decade - after all, it's a good excuse for a party!)

The strongest part of a marriage (or any relationship) tends to be communication. With improvements to technology then hopefully communication itself would be easier. No need to bury your head in the newspaper when you can enter VR and play the latest games together - you'd pretty quickly learn what sort of person your partner is by their behaviour if their choices had no (physical) consequences in real life - which would hopefully lead to stronger relationships and marriages (and conversely more long-distance relationships).

As mentioned elsewhere the overriding reason for marriage is a legal one. Who do you love enough to give the legal power to switch off your life support to (worst case, but valid). If you have a life expectancy of centuries then that question is far more valid and pertinent.

Age differences will be even less of an issue than now. Sure - people will talk and look (and sometimes make assumptions on the relationship), but if people don't continue to age visibly then those assumptions start going, and it becomes a number that's pretty much irrelevant when weighed against maturity and compatibility.

Marriage itself would need to evolve, to match the two types of people that want it: those who throw themselves into everything completely, but will also change over time and want to move on. And those who carefully consider and want something to last for those centuries.

Over time I think the only thing that will change marriage is law - how people feel, interact, and behave, will pretty much always be the same, just their choices available that change.

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