Once upon a time, young boys and girls would marry shortly after graduating high school. They would move out of their parents’ house and into their own newlywed abode. The young husband would work while the wife stayed home with her 2.5 kids. Life was good.
My, how times have changed.
Today, young adults are marrying almost a decade later in life. The average age for marriage is 28 for men and 26 for women, while in the early 1950s it was 22 for men and 20 for women.
Why the delay?
There are countless reasons, but a primary one is that people are pursuing education and career before starting a family.
"Marriage happens today after people have built up their careers and have lived independently for a time,” said Scott Hall, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Family Studies at Ball State University. "Young adults have many goals they want to accomplish before settling down and starting a family."
The expectation to have a college degree before marrying is a real one, according to Anthony Rettig, 21, of Crown Point, who is single and going to school for his master’s degree. “In order to establish a household, one must have a job, not unlike those in the 1950s,” Rettig said. “The trouble is, in order to get the type of job that will allow one to sustain a household requires either at least a college education or some other type of advance training, which simply takes time.”
Nicole Spangler, 30, of Lansing, also single, has observed that the delay could also be attributed to a mixture of economic difficulty and the “extension of adolescence.” Not only do young adults spend four-plus years in college, but many then struggle to find a good job after college. Thus, a vicious cycle ensues: “We’re in debt, we live with our parents, and we still don’t even know what we want to do when we grow up,” Spangler said.
A third and potentially damaging reason young adults are putting off marriage is that premarital sex is more commonplace now. Hall surveyed 2,500 Ball State students, a large number of which indicated they “develop a relationship through a series of hookups that are often alcohol-induced, making it difficult for people to actually get to know each other early on in their relationship.”
Aside from the immediate risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, this can lead to problems when the young adults actually do marry. “The longer a person experiences having multiple sexual partners within a relatively brief time period, the more difficult it could be to flip the switch and be satisfied with monogamy,” Hall said. In fact, the divorce rate is higher for those who have had sex with someone other than their spouse prior to marriage, and research indicates that married couples from recent generations report less satisfaction and more adjustment than prior generations, Hall said.
Not all tradition is lost, however. Of the four male young adults interviewed for this article, three of them said they still prefer asking girls on traditional dates. The only one who preferred otherwise, Thomas Olson, 24, of Crown Point, said he’d opt for a formal date only after getting to know the person on a casual level. “The casual hangout allows me options that aren’t heartbreakers,” he said, whereas “the formal date implies this is more than hooking up” and therefore is “usually reserved for the second or third encounter.”
Several other factors play into the changing trends in dating, according to Hall and the young adults interviewed. The increase of online versus face-to-face interaction, more women in the workplace, a higher life expectancy, and the overall non-committal culture of this generation were some of the projected theories mentioned.
The twenties is certainly a challenging time of transition, as described in the "Friends" theme song—“Your job’s a joke, you’re broke, and love lasts the whole week”—but young adults can rest assured knowing that they are not alone: staying single for longer is now the new normal.