A recent article on Yahoo extolled “The Benefits of Marrying Later in Life.” The writer, who waited until age 46 to marry, listed the benefits of delaying marriage:
– Learning to love herself and accept her self-worth
– Time to become her own person
– Benefit of knowing who she is
– Experiencing life as her own complete person
With all due respect to the author, her list looks like a recipe for perpetual singleness. A decade or more of doing what’s best for “me” and learning to love and complete “myself” is not the best way to prepare for the sacrifices and selflessness required to be one half of a couple. Be honest: Would you want to marry someone who has spent two entire decades of her life “learning to love herself”? She’s going to be a tough act to follow.
According to the Pew Research Center, the median age for marriage in the United States has risen to a record 28.7 for men and 26.5 for women, which means that half are older than the median when they marry. Marriage overall has declined as well; barely half of Americans are currently married, a record low, compared to 72% in 1960.
But those averages don’t tell the whole story. More and more in our society, success is defined as progressing along a pathway that includes high school, college, graduate or professional school, a career with a 6-figure salary, and, after a long succession of “practice” relationships, perhaps marriage and children (if the woman’s AARP-eligible eggs hold out that long).
Of course, it hasn’t always been that way. Until the early 1900s, no one had ever heard the words “teenager” and “adolescence.” Upon reaching the age of maturity (usually in the late teens), young people were expected to court and marry in short order. If a 20-something lived in his parents’ basement, he usually had a good excuse — such as missing hands and feet, or being in a permanent comatose state. In the book From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth Century America, Beth Bailey describes the societal changes that led to our current dating and marriage culture and the new phase of life we now know as extended adolescence:
Because young people were released, to a great extent, from adult responsibilities and decisions, the act of choosing a lifelong mate did not seem so immediately important. Within youth culture, the emphasis in courtship shifted to the social and recreational process of dating…
In a span of about 50 years, we went from supervised courtship with the expectation that marriage would be the end result to casual, recreational dating and, eventually, cohabitation as an accepted precursor or replacement for marriage. As a result of these cultural changes, not only has the marriage age crept steadily upward, but so has the divorce rate. Currently around 50% of new marriages end in divorce, compared to 8% in 1900 and 25% in the early 70s, when no-fault divorce laws appeared.
In light of these statistics, I’d like to suggest four compelling reasons why marrying earlier in life (perhaps by the mid-20s) might be beneficial.