Unless marriage is politicized, many people my age do not take it seriously. Many of my classmates do not date and see marriage only as rite of passage for the future—way far out in the future. I recently heard a presentation on this topic by Dr. Jason Carroll of Brigham Young University at the Love and Fidelity Network’s National Conference. He said many people talk about the who, thewhat, and the why of marriage, but there has been little analysis of thewhen. In other words, when is a good age to get married? The national average in which women (27) and men (29) marry has been on the rise, but what does this mean?
His presentation called “Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage” analyzed the implications of this trend across men and women of various socioeconomic levels. His main findings suggest that delaying marriage financially benefits the upper class but creates challenges for those who have less than a college degree. The fact that “marriage has shifted from being the cornerstone to the capstone of adult life” has not only made marriage seem unattainable to many, but has also altered one of the primary reasons get married—to start a family. Carroll’s report found that today, “for women as a whole, the median age at first birth (25.7) falls below the median age of first marriage (26.5).” This crossover in the trends of marriage and childbearing has had particularly negative consequences for people of lower income brackets.
Obviously economic success or stability is not the end of marriage, but if it’s a reason people are delaying marriage, the research suggests that people shouldn’t be afraid to get married sooner rather than later. Carroll found that a married couple’s level of education most positively influences their financial prospects not the age at which the couple gets married. In light of the capstone mentality of marriage, this is an important finding. Although the research also shows that getting married really young (late teens early twenties) increases likelihood divorced, these premature marriages are quite rare today.
As college students, marriage is not only something we should begin to think seriously about, but also something we should act seriously about. How can we expect to have healthy and happy marriages when we keep putting marriage off to satisfy our personal pleasures and ambitions? How do we expect marriage, a lifelong commitment, to work when we aspire to cohabit instead? Many of us want to share the rest of our lives with someone else but are making choices that are not preparing us for commitment and total-self-giving love.
I know that marriage and having children is an uncomfortable topic for many people my age. At a place like Harvard, getting married shortly after college is stigmatized. But this shouldn’t be the case. Getting married doesn’t mean giving up your life or ambitions. It means starting a new life, sharing your ambitions, and growing with another person. If getting married is something we want, even if we can’t fully determine when, we shouldn’t continue the upward trend of knot yet.
Luciana E. Milano ’14 is a government concentrator living in Pforzheimer House. She is President of The Harvard College Anscombe Society.
This article was originally posted in the Love and Fidelity Network State of Affairs, You can read the whole article here: http://www.loveandfidelity.org/2013/11/27/why-knot-now/