By today’s standards, my husband and I had an unconventional road to marriage.
We met, dated, got engaged, and married all within about the span of a year—both of us standing at the altar at the ripe old age of 23.
About 50 years ago, this would have been normal; in 1970, the average age for women to get married for the first time was 21 and the average for men was 23. But in 2021, when we got married, that average has since increased by 7+ years. Most Millennial and Gen Z adults are now delaying marriage into their late twenties, early thirties, and beyond.
I don’t expect this to be news to you. For one, these statistics have been harped on for years by conservatives and progressives alike who use this generational phenomenon to highlight important shifts in culture and societal structure. Secondly, whether we like it or not, delayed marriage has become the norm for our western culture—and perhaps even more significantly—the rising skepticism of what is now classified as “early marriage.”
Contributor Ashley McGuire discusses this sentiment in part of her interview below:
My husband and I, too, felt (and continue to feel) the effects of this skepticism. Today, when we tell others we’ve been happily married for over two years, we receive the wide-eyed look that says, “Young people still do that?” We have often had to clarify that we are each other’s spouse because the general assumption is that we are cohabiting like the majority of our young, unmarried neighbors.
Today’s culture has stigmatized young married couples as having higher divorce rates and lower rates of marital satisfaction. A recent report by the National Marriage Project, however, paints a very different picture: between early first-time marriages (20-24) and later first-time marriages (25+), levels of sexual satisfaction, conflict resolution, marital stability, and relationship satisfaction are almost equal if not higher for men and women in early marriages compared to later marriages.
In other words, age doesn’t really seem to be the problem. What matters, it appears to be, is one’s worldview on marriage.
The report opens with quite a revealing statement: “Most American adults aspire to be married. But for most people marriage has become what distinguished family sociologist Andrew Cherlin called a ‘capstone achievement’ rather than a cornerstone of young adult life.”
Instead of marriage being the main goal in a young adult’s life, it’s become one of many goals—and a goal that should be pursued only after all personal, financial, and career goals have first been achieved. I’m not quite sure what has created this mindset in my generation beyond the fact that marriage is no longer a necessity. Not only can men and women live independently by supporting themselves financially, but they have been freed from sexual consequences (i.e., children) thanks to the Sexual Revolution. They can also reap the many benefits of marriage if they so choose, such as living together or raising a family together, without the pesky legal obligations (though data shows negative consequences to this). Simply put, we’ve lost sight of marriage as a supreme ideal or value because of the luxury of choice.
Another reason why we’ve lost sight is the lack of family values being emphasized in both the private and public spheres. Not only is there no physical necessity for marriage but there is also no social or moral necessity in today’s western culture. Beyond mild pressure from “traditional” family members, there are very few people telling young adults that it’s important to get married.
The Christian church is one of those few remaining bulwarks for marriage because it knows something that society does not: marriage’s definition and purpose. Yes, pro-creation and family formation have always rested on the marriage union and it is essential to society. But marriage is much more than even that. Only when one comes to see marriage as God’s human institution to reflect His love for us—a love that is pure, sacrificial, joyful, and enduring—can we see marriage for what it was always intended to be and why it is a high calling to those who enter into it.
So, my question is: Why put off that high calling? Marriage is the gift of going and growing through life with another person. While there may be challenges, there is great benefit in building the foundation of that life and family you will share together. Millennials and Gen Z, let’s stop looking at marriage like a “last ditch effort” but instead as the cornerstone for a prosperous life. Marriage as a commitment isn’t where your life ends—it is where the fullness of life often begins.