I don’t know if you’ve heard, but today’s young adults are waiting longer and longer to get married. In fact, the age the average man and woman get married has hit an all-time high – 29 for men and 27 for women – numbers that continue to climb. In 1960, the average man got married at 23; the average woman at 20. The delay of marriage is one of the most significant shifts in family formation of our time. People are definitely waiting longer to get married. But why?
Here at Boundless we work hard, encouraging men to step up to the plate and ask women out, and encouraging women to go out with those men when they ask (unless he’s a psychopath). We believe marriage is a good thing and – like many of our readers and their parents – wonder why so many are waiting so long to enjoy one of life’s good gifts. But there is much more to the extensive postponement of marriage than fainthearted men and picky women.
New research finds there are many reasons young people are waiting. One big reason is money. More and more young people struggle to find work with which they might support a wife and family, a challenge that especially hits America’s less-educated. In 2010, the national unemployment rate for high school grads (though age 24) was 24.6 percent. Where not too long ago a high school diploma offered work in manufacturing, construction, mining or utilities, today there simply are not enough jobs to go around.
Therefore, as we might expect, more and more young people are going to college. Sixty-eight percent of 2011 high school grads enrolled in college that same year. While college graduates do dramatically improve their potential earning potential – 84 percent higher than high school graduates – many college graduates are strapped with debt ($27,000 on average) and many college grads choose fields that require even more education and even more debt.
In such a tough economic environment, many young adults feel pressure to wait to marry until they get all their ducks in a row. Today, 91 percent of young adults believe they must be completely financially independent to be ready for marriage, and 90 percent believe they should finish their education first. And perhaps some should.
But what many young people forget is that most of their parents’ and grandparents’ generation had very little figured out financially when they got married. They committed to making it work and to working hard. Many of them went through difficult times and had to pinch pennies to make ends meet. But they got through it, and many were better for it.
I’m not suggesting young people rush off into marriage without thinking whether they are financially ready, but perhaps many young couples should rethink their expectations, especially regarding their standard of living. Additionally, research shows that marriage tends to have an economic advantage for the married. Married men consistently out earn their single counterparts. Money certainly isn’t the only reason young adults are waiting to get married, but it’s probably more of a cause than it should be.
Marriage is not a commitment to a particular lifestyle; it’s a commitment to a person. When two people marry, they are saying, “Come what may, we are in this together. We’ll face the challenges together and rejoice in the victories together.” Whatever financial challenges you are facing, consider that marriage may be a great help in overcoming that challenge and not just a reward after you’ve overcome it yourself. You may never feel like you have all your ducks in a row, but a loving spouse will likely be a great help to that very end.