Thursday, June 22, 2006

Will This Marriage Last? – Marrying "At A Certain Age"

From Ash:

I'm going to steal Po's and my thunder right away: age at first marriage is one of the strongest variables of marital stability there is.

Now by no means is it the only factor for a lasting marriage – so don't flip out if you're 40 and unmarried or you married at 19. Economics, education, and other factors all play a huge part, but age at marriage is one factor that's more readily able to isolate from all the rest, and it's also the one that people have the most control over.

So is early or later better?

Sociologists have found that couples who marry at younger ages are significantly more likely to divorce. The younger they are, the worse it is.

Now, who is a "younger" bride? Definitely someone under the age of 20. That, there seems to be no debate on. Teenage marriage, is on a trend-level, and sure there's always exceptions, not a great idea.

After that, there's some debate, and it's changing along the way. Because of increasing numbers going to school, etc., a young bride in the 1980s was probably 20. Now, a bride might be considered "young" at 22 or even years later.

You probably can predict some of the reasons why the couples who married at younger ages (note that they may not be "young" by the time they divorce) have problems. First, they are more immature. That can mean that they are ill-equipped to handle difficulties: they don't have emotional or communication skills to resolve conflicts. It also means that the interests and thoughts they had at 18 may not be the same views and passions they have at 25 or 35.

A couple marrying young may have done so because of an unplanned pregnancy, feeling they had to marry, not that they wanted to. They may have gotten married to get out of their parents' house, rather than from a desire to start their own.

Younger couples will have less resources, economically, which means that finances can put added strain on their marriage.

If none of those come as a surprise to you, here's one that might: younger brides may be fishing in too small a sea. They marry the first guy who seems right, without meeting enough men to have a real understanding of what their options were; they aren't exposed to the real variety out there. She married a guy because they grew up together and she never dated anyone else. Or they liked the same movies and had the same taste in music: she forgot to ask if he wanted to have kids or go to college. In fact, even just having the option to wait a couple more years before marriage can lower the instability of a younger bride's marriage, because at least she knows she willingly chose this guy instead of marrying him out of an age-based desperation.

So those are the drawbacks for having an early marriage. Here's what you can tell your parents that you've gained by waiting.

First, a wider range of available potential spouses. These prospective spouses will likely still be never-married themselves; they'll be about the same age or a bit older; they may have similar educational backgrounds (e.g., they meet at college). When they marry, they've met enough guys to know what really matters: they have the same belief system, goals.

They may not yet have established their careers, but they still have some resources to draw upon.

At the same time, psychologically, they're much more mature. They have better communication skills. They're likely to be more fully formed adults with a clearer sense of themselves.

Older brides and grooms are often more educated – we'll go into that more later, but that means they're more likely to be more involved in parenting, have better communication skills, etc. Older husbands tend to help out more with the housework, and be a little more egalitarian, which helps marital happiness.

In case you're curious, according to recent Census data, in 2005, the median age for an American woman's first marriage was 25.8; for men, it was 27.1.

For a while, scholars feared that if a woman is still unmarried in her late-20s, early 30s, the pool of available men would shrunk too much for her to find a marriageable man. All those newsreports and disapproving aunts who say "You're being too picky," and belief that may be true could result in women at that ages or older ultimately just grabbing a single man, whether or not he's right for her.

And yes, older women can marry a divorced man, but remarriages tend to be a little less stable (we'll discuss later), so that didn't salve the concerns.

But the median age at first marriage is on a steady increase for both men and women. From about 1940 to 1970, couples were actually getting married at an atypically young age. So they aren't a fair reference point. (And, not terribly surprisingly, couples who got married young in the 1970s divorced in the 1980s.) But since 1980, the age at first marriages has been on a fairly steady increase – the median age is about 3 years older than it was then.

So the window of unmarried marriageable men is staying open later. And higher populations of people going to college, careers taking longer to start, etc., women are still meeting new prospects with the new circumstances (new job opportunities, etc.) The men shortage doesn't seem to be as severe as was predicted.

At the same token, when women would formerly stop meeting men (once they've left college and are settling into jobs, thus meeting fewer new people), skyrocketing popularity of websites such as, Jdate, etc., also seem to be lengthening the time in which to find compatible spouses.

Sociologists do wonder, however, that even if the availability problem is lessened, that the positives of later marriage may sort of cap out at some point, but they don't know when that is. There are theories about somewhere in the mid to late 30s, but they aren't sure. Women didn't formerly get married at 34 or 43, so there just aren't any ways to assess if these marriages last for decades – because there haven't been decades to test them out. Also, the education factor also really effects this: today, women with college educations and careers are do get married. A few decades ago, a college educated woman would probably never have used her education in the labor force, and before that, she would likely never have gotten married at all.

But with the data we do have, 35 is not better than 30, and 30 is not better than 25. The current bell curve peaks at 25. In other words, waiting is good - but you don't have to wait forever.

Next up: Opposites Attract, But Do They Stay Married?


Anonymous Ari T. said...

Marriage is extremely complex and perhaps these statistics are light on really good qualitative data. The interpretation of such data is even worse and too general to be of any use in really observing a relationship.

I'm 26, a young female professional in a relationship. I grew up knowing that dating and relationships are fairly nebulous these days. As a graduate of a Seven Sisters school, I don't even understand why women even care about being married or getting married. It's typically the women with massive insecurities that are quick to delve into marriage and committment. It's as though they forgot how to create a fun life for themselves.

Frankly, all this marriage stuff a little passe. Be glad you're living in a time when it doesn't matter whether you're married or divorced or whatever!

12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I studied in co-ed schools all my life though I grew up in an all-female household (barring my dad). I then read engineering and an MBA in late 1980s, then both quite male-dominated disciplines. I have worked in IT in senior strategy and executive roles surrounded again by mostly men.

I married at 27 - not really young - with no particular misgivings nor unreasonably dreamy expectations about marriage, except that it is a full-time job, requiring commitment and constant work. Now 8 years on, I can reflect and see that we married when we both had a certain career trajectory established and we could project our future together. We were also both mature and stable, and hence secure in our identities. We were well-travelled, multi-lingual and adventurous and we continue to be so together. We share some taste in music and reading, but I am no golfer and my husband is no avid gym-freak. We are both independent minded and we constantly surprise our friends who do not understand that being married does not mean subsuming your own individuality. We share fairly and we both give a lot to the relationship.

I think age doesnt matter, your maturity and flexibility does. And certainly how much you are capable of giving love. Above all your commitment does.

Ari T.'s comment is interesting. She perhaps does not know that men equally seek to get married because they too seek a commitment where one has companionship, friendship, love, warmth and stability. After all whom does she think these women 'with massive insecurities' are marrying?

I have many single male friends who are now 'our' friends which is also unusual. They are seeking relationships but also find women, constantly on search for fun, a bit daunting and a waste of time.

Having fun is fun for sure, having someone to cheer you on and lean on you and love you no matter what (something that only parents could otherwise do) is unmatchable.

As for stats, in the UK, the average age for being a mother is now over 32. For those medically-minded, this is called being a 'geriatric' mother. Enough said I think. For a child, a stable relationship between parents does wonders and that needs commitment. Marriage may appear passe, but as a sign of commitment, it is pretty au courant.

6:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

to the anonymous poster, very well said! i think people need to strat realising that marriage is a partnership and should be an enjoyable relationship and fulfilling committment. whilst everyone goes through hard times, if you have a solid foundation on which your marriage is built, is friendship and mutual understanding, then dealing with problems is alot easier.

i myself am 24, young female. I feel that i am still learning about life, but would love to learn and grow with someone, who has similar outlook on life. Its good to be different in terms of habits and traits, but sharing a deeper understanding about the important things in life is what keeps a couple together.

i have seen many failed marriages - my own parents, who are still together, i would classify as a complete failure. I cannot even remember a time when they slept in the same bed. And relating this to the statistics, maybe this has created some insecuruties and worries within me about my own future in and my feelings towards a future partner.

however, i see my experiences as things to learn from - it has made me more determined to understand what makes a marriage work and how i can better myself to try and find my partner. Its all about give and take- no-one is perfect.

And to the poster who mentioned that some women marry out of tradition and seem to do it to make up for insecurities- i think you'll realise in time that its human nature to want to find someone to settle down with - this should be the begining of a great partnership rather than the end of freedom and single life. It all depends on how much you put into it, and how much you want out of it.

My regards and best wishes to the previous poster - you are an inspiration to us all and i hope u have many happy years of marriage to come.

5:42 AM  
Anonymous mary said...

I was wondering about these statistics - when you say "age at marriage" does this refer to the age of the bride or age of the groom?

Also, do you have any information about marriages where the bride and groom are different ages? For example, is a young bride-older groom marriage more (or less) successful than a young bride-young groom marriage, or an older bride-younger groom marriage? I have been searching for a study on this topic but have been unable to find anything. Do you know of any sources?

12:25 PM  
Blogger Po Bronson said...

When we were quoting ages, which were in rough bands, usually the stats are run by the bride's age.

As for age differences, I might have to double check this with Ashley, but when there was more than five years age difference in a couple, that increased the likelihood of divorce by a little. Again, that's the statistics. In no way should that discourage any couple considering marriage.

12:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I got married at age 21, shortly after graduating from college. He was 22 and we graduated together. We've been happily married for nearly 22 years now and have seven children.

5:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am really concerned about the state of marriage in our country. There is hope on the horizon though. There is a new mate to marriage site called that helps singles marry using twelve-step principles. I think it makes sense.

5:22 PM  

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