March 14, 2013
As the average marrying age gets higher every year, the divorce rate grows and the number of babies born out of wedlock increases, many people have begun to assume my generation doesn’t believe in marriage.
But Christian Science Monitor editor John Yema got it right recently when he wrote, “Even if young people are waiting longer before saying their vows than any previous generation, they aren’t necessarily anti-marriage. What they most want, it appears, is to get marriage right.”
He was right. Many Millennials I know are putting off marriage not because they think marriage is bad, but because they think divorce is bad. They either had their childhood disrupted by their parents’ divorce(s) or watched the shadow it cast on their friends’ lives and decided they didn’t want to cause the same pain in their own families.
Right or wrong, as a result many young adults are doing what they think is best to avoid a divorce. They’re waiting for someone they feel they can’t live without instead of marrying the best option available to them at the age they are “supposed” to get married. They are trying to get their lives in order (finish school, start a career, get out of debt) before they get married in order to avoid the stressors they saw help tear others’ marriages apart. They are taking some time to live a life of self-centered spontaneity now rather than during a midlife crisis.
As much as older generations bemoan the lack of respect for marriage, they are part of the reason some young adults are waiting to settle down. I wasn’t surprised to see that a study across five college campuses last year showed that on average young adults thought the best age to get married was 25, but said their parents were pushing them to wait longer.
I’ve seen plenty of evidence of that — when I was a senior in college a serious boyfriend considered proposing but eventually broke up with me instead after sustained, intense pressure from his parents not to get married for several more years. I saw a lot of other relationships fall apart, stretch on indefinitely or have an engagement marred by tension and resentment because one or both sets of parents were adamantly opposed to their child marrying in their early twenties.
On the other hand, I also knew plenty of college upperclassmen who saw marriage as a “someday” instead of a priority and I can see why. There just aren’t the same incentives to get married at 22 as there used to be.
Girls are taught they can have a successful career in any field they choose and therefore don’t need a man to take care of them. Boys aren’t raised with the expectation that they will need to be ready to support a wife and children not long after high school. Most people don’t get through college in just four years anymore and with their parents footing the bill are able to delay true adulthood until almost 30. Medical advances make it easier to get pregnant later in life. It’s socially acceptable to live together unmarried.
In those conditions, it’s amazing young couples ever get married at all. But we should want more couples to get married — not at 18, necessarily, but not at 35 either.
Studies have shown married people are generally happier than their unmarried peers. They also, as a whole, live longer, enjoy better health and have more money. They are more likely to vote, volunteer and otherwise be good citizens. More married people means less tax dollars spent on things like child support enforcement.
There is overwhelming evidence that children raised their whole lives by a married couple are the most likely to become happy, healthy, productive members of society. They are less likely to engage in risky behavior like unprotected sex and drunk driving. They are five times less likely to grow up in poverty. They are more likely to do well in school and less likely to commit suicide or end up in jail.
Maybe Millennials could stand to hear more of that and less of the “Don’t tie yourself down” mantra.