It’s no news to anyone that the age at first marriage has been steadily rising in almost every developed nation over the past four decades. In the 1960’s both men and women typically married in their early twenties. Recent data indicates that this age has risen to around 28 for women and 30 for men*. It’s a dramatic social change and deserves careful evaluation as its consequences are far reaching.
When we decided to marry twenty years ago comments came quickly; at 21, Francine was far too young to marry. Apparently, at 27, Byron ‘qualified’ and was spared the negativity from friends and colleagues. Fortunately we never paid much heed to these comments, bolstered by the strong support of our families. But it is worth pondering the implications of those initial reactions: what would have been our alternatives?
As Byron wasn’t ‘too young’, the logical extension is that he could have moved on and married someone else effectively meaning we would break up and recommence the process of ‘mate selection’ and courtship all over again with different partners (not a thrilling thought!). We could have ‘taken a break’ and suspended our relationship (not thrilling either), extended the engagement for a few more years (for what purpose?) or cohabitated until Francine ‘grew up’ (when is one grown up enough?).
It’s hard to imagine that any of these alternatives would have delivered the joys and benefits with which our marriage has blessed us, let alone compensated us for the emotional pain that they would have necessarily entailed. Yet still, the prevailing wisdom of our culture is that to delay marriage is sensible and responsible. We regularly hear of well meaning parents who encourage their twenty-something children to cohabit rather than marry because they believe them to be ‘too young’.
Similarly, comments from committed cohabitating couples also reflect the belief that they are ‘not ready’ for marriage. No doubt these people have good intentions and their concerns need to be acknowledged. The question is: are their concerns justified, and if they are, are they for the right reasons? Does delaying marriage to the late twenties actually deliver stronger marriages? Over the next few issues, we’ll be exploring these questions and unpacking some of the latest research data that will challenge these now accepted norms.
* Figures represent a weighted average (1999) across 19 developed nations including countries from western and northern Europe, Australia, NZ, Japan, Canada and the USA. Source: www.nationmaster.com