From the archive: are these the last days of marriage? September 1967

The state of marriage is often being worried over, but with the 60s in full swing the Observer Magazine saw it in more existential terms than usual for its edition of 17 September 1967, asking ‘Are we the last married generation?’ At the very least the cover photograph certainly raises the stakes over bin night.

One man in his mid-20s strongly agreed (not about the bins): ‘Marriage will have to disintegrate, it’s too demanding and crippling. And children are really self-sufficient at 14.’ Er, right… and when he spoke about his girlfriend, he sounded even more uncommitted: ‘If she decided to go off with someone else I wouldn’t feel rejected because I was always alone anyway.’

One married painter described a scene not unlike modern lockdown: ‘My wife had given up her secretarial jobs and, of course, I work at home, so she was just pottering around and shopping, and because the flat was small it was impossible to get a long way from each other for even an hour.’

Don and his girlfriend had been living together for six years and were adamant they wouldn’t marry. ‘We don’t see this as a gesture of defiance against society or anything like that, you know,’ said Don, seemingly speaking on her behalf, too. ‘It’s just that many people make the gesture of marriage without the commitment to each other; we’ve made the commitment before the gesture.’

The piece concluded that marriage was on a knife-edge from which it might drop off in one of two directions, either towards ‘a kind of permissiveness which would probably lessen the intensity of all our personal relationships’ or it ‘might fall off the fence to confront us with neuroses, our inadequacies… the first step in a tremendous growth, releasing us into a new sense of reality and control over the darker side of our personality’. Or perhaps it just muddled on…