Boomerang

COLLEEN CARROLL CAMPBELL

Marrying young is not the answer for everyone, of course. But neither is it the foolhardy move that our popular culture portrays it to be.

Everyone knows it's a mistake to marry too soon. But are there drawbacks to dawdling on your way to the altar? The question is a pressing one, given the rising age of first marriage in America. At 28 for men and 26 for women, our median marrying age today is five years older for both men and women than it was in 1970, and the oldest it's been since the U.S. Census began tracking it in the 1890s.

The question of an ideal marriage age is even more pressing in light of a new Pew Research Center survey that found a spike in the number of young adults choosing to return to their parents' nest rather than build their own. Branded as "boomerangers," these young adults who move back in with Mom and Dad after college or a few years in the work force now account for a fifth of all Americans ages 25 to 34, up from just over a tenth in 1980.

While tight finances and a tough job market have fueled the cluttered-nest craze, researchers say delayed marriage is also a crucial driver. And they say the marrying age may keep rising as more young adults opt to extend their adolescent freedoms and dependence on their parents into their late 20s and beyond.

Many parents are happy to see their children take their time in tying the knot, given the conventional wisdom that an early marriage is a ticket to divorce. Teen marriage is, indeed, a risky venture: According to the University of Virginia's National Marriage Project, marrying as a teenager is the highest known risk factor for divorce. People who marry in their teens are two to three times more likely to divorce than those who marry at older ages.

Yet the major benefit for marital stability comes from delaying marriage past the teen years into the early 20s. After that, the benefits of delaying marriage are debatable, and some research suggests that couples who marry earlier may wind up happier.

A 2009 study led by University of Texas sociologist Norval Glenn, which measured marital success both in terms of marriage survival rates and the quality of marital relationships, found that couples who wed between the ages of 22 and 25 experienced "the highest marital success." The study concluded that "most persons have little or nothing to gain in the way of marital success by deliberately postponing marriage beyond the mid-twenties."

The reasons for greater marital success among these younger spouses surely vary. One factor may be the malleability of youth: Spouses may be more open to the compromises a successful marriage demands if they have not spent a decade or more getting set in their single ways.

The study concluded that "most persons have little or nothing to gain in the way of marital success by deliberately postponing marriage beyond the mid-twenties."

Another factor may be the intense bond spouses experience when they are living with a romantic partner for the first time, rather than having spent years on the treadmill of serial cohabitation with a revolving cast of potential mates. Although many young adults see living together as a harmless way to "test drive" partners before opting for marriage, an analysis of studies on the topic published this year in the Journal of Marriage and Family found that cohabitation before marriage has "a significant negative association with both marital stability and marital quality."

Marrying young is not the answer for everyone, of course. But neither is it the foolhardy move that our popular culture portrays it to be. For young adults who have found the person they want to spend their lives with – and for women who hope to bear several children before advanced age and declining fertility hinder their chances – marrying sooner rather than later can be a wise choice.

And it sure beats bunking with Mom and Dad.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Colleen Carroll Campbell. "Boomerang." St. Louis Post-Dispatch (April 8, 2010).

Reprinted with permission of the author, Colleen Carroll Campbell.

THE AUTHOR

Colleen Carroll Campbell is an author, television and radio host and St. Louis-based fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. She is the author of The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy. Colleen Carroll Campbell writes for a wide variety of national publications, speaks to audiences across America, and hosts her own television show, "Faith & Culture," on EWTN, the world's largest religious media network.  Her website is here.

Copyright © 2010 Colleen Carroll Campbell




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