Men and women are pushing back marriage — if they’re even getting married, that is. While our parents may have married in their early 20s, most women nowadays are marrying at 27 and most men at 29.
Should we really be worried?
Delaying marriage has its perks, especially if you’re a woman: Women accumulate more wealth if they wait until they’re 30 or older to marry — about $18,152 (nothing to sneeze at). And, delaying marriage has meant that those marriages are more stable, thus driving down the divorce rate (couples who marry in their early 20s or even younger are more likely to divorce). That’s good, right?
Still, the big “horror” stories about waiting to marry are actually about waiting to marry if you want kids — no one seems to be too concerned about marrying latter if you’re not going to have kids — because the older women are, the harder it is for them to conceive. An article in last summer’s Atlantic, How long can you wait to have a baby?, basically busted that argument wide open, and my interview with Cyma Shapiro about “Nurture: Stories of New Midlife Mothers,” her traveling photo and essay exhibit of mothers aged 41 to 65, indicates more and more women are finding ways to work around the age-fertility issue, happily.
But then I stumbled upon a study that looked at the ramifications of women delaying marriage that I hadn’t seen addressed before — the “poor-match effect.”
On the surface, it doesn’t sound all that bad:
Women who enter marriage in their late twenties or after are more likely than their counterparts who do so earlier to have completed 16 years of schooling or more, by a wide margin.
Education is good, right?
Then the bomb drops:
In other observed dimensions of the match, however, women who married in their late twenties or later tended to form unions with characteristics found in earlier research to be associated with higher marital instability: they were more likely to wed men who had been previously married and who were younger than them by three years or more. These patterns … are suggestive of a “poor-match effect” emerging as the biological clock begins to tick.
Oh dear — what it seems to imply is that women who have baby on the brain but wait too long to find a man with whom to have those kids are, well, doomed. They’re marrying men have already tied the knot with someone else — damaged goods! — and the women themselves more likely to have cohabited with someone else — sluts! — and are thus “poor matches.” Since when would marrying a slightly younger man be a bad thing, especially since women live longer than men? Would studies say the same about marrying younger women (probably not, for the same reason — baby-making).
Regardless, the researchers find that their marriages tend to be stable. Uh, don’t we want that?
So, what’s up?
According to the study’s authors, either one of two things is happening:
- whatever challenges these unconventional matches may pose they can be addressed with the greater resources and higher maturity that come with more education and older ages, respectively. That is, the destabilizing effects typically associated with such factors as cohabitation before marriage, having a child from a previous union, a husband who was previously married, and age heterogamy, may simply not be present in couples that have delayed entry into marriage.
- these indicators of unconventional matches are always associated with higher marital instability – even in couples that have delayed entry to marriage – but the stabilizing effects associated with older ages and higher levels of educational attainment are larger and dominate.
Unless I am reading the study incorrectly, there doesn’t seem to be anything bad with delaying marriage. In fact, being older, more mature and more educated seems to be a win-win when it comes to tying the knot.
So, why is there so much angst about people marrying later? Because it clearly isn’t concern about everyone marrying later — it’s more hand-wringing about the uneducated or barely educated lower-socioeconomic women who are having babies and not marrying. And as studies have shown, although lower-income women value marriage and have more traditional views about marriage and divorce, financial concerns are among the reasons that prevent them from getting hitched. Pushing marriage on the poor won’t help — creating better paying jobs for them and any potential partners, however, will. And, while we’re at it, how about making college more accessible, too? And maybe good, affordable child care?
So, the next time you read another story in the media about Millennials delaying marriage, stop worrying; they know exactly what they’re doing.
- Do you worry about when you “should” marry?
- Is there a “right” age to marry?