New study: marrying in your mid-to-late 20s confers benefits

Marriage and family
Marriage and family

This is from moderate Brad Wilcox, writing in the leftist Washington Post.

He writes:

These days, 20something marriage has gotten a reputation for being a bad idea. That’s partly because parents, peers, and the popular culture encourage young adults to treat their twenties as a decade for exploration and getting one’s ducks in a row, not for settling down. In the immortal words of Jay-Z, “Thirty’s the new twenty.”

Indeed, the median age-at-first marriage has climbed to nearly 30 for today’s young adults, up from about 22 in 1970. Of course, there’s an upside to that. As my coauthors and I report in  Knot Yet: the Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America, women who put off marriage and starting a family earn markedly more money than their peers who marry earlier.

But if you’d like to maximize your marital happiness, your odds of having a couple of kids, and of forging common memories and family traditions, you might not want to delay marriage if the right person presents his or herself  in your mid-to-late 20s. A University of Texas study found the highest-quality unions were forged by couples who married during that period.

He then goes over some of the benefits.

Here’s one that stuck out to me:

First, you are more likely to marry someone who shares your basic values and life experiences, and less likely to marry someone with a complicated romantic or family history.  Those who marry in their twenties, for instance, are more likely to marry someone who isn’t previously married and shares their level of educational attainment as well as their religious faith. Marrying at this stage in your life also allows couples to experience early adulthood together. In the words of Elizabeth Gilbert, a 31-year-old woman who married in her mid-twenties, “My husband and I got to grow up together—not apart. We learned sacrifice, selflessness, compromise, and became better people for it.”

And:

Women who marry in their 20s generally have an easier time getting pregnant, and having more than one child, than their peers who wait to marry in their thirties.  You’ll also be around to enjoy the grandchildren for longer.

Marrying earlier is also nice because you get that “honeymoon” period before you have to start having kids. If you want to have 1-2 kids, you’ll need 3-4 years. You will want to have at least 2 years of “honeymoon” time to iron out differences and just enjoy married life. Children are challenging, and they will add more stress to the marriage. You don’t want to marry at 33 and start having kids before that 2 year settling-down period is finished. If marriage really is valuable, then it doesn’t make sense to put off building it together. The sooner your start, the more you can build. The more you can learn from each other. The more kids you can have.

Related to this study is a 15-minute TED.com lecture that talks about how people should be preparing for their marriages during their 20s instead of pursuing fun and thrills. (H/T Lindsay)

The transcript says this:

Okay, now that sounds a little flip, but make no mistake, the stakes are very high. When a lot has been pushed to your 30s, there is enormous thirtysomething pressure to jump-start a career, pick a city, partner up, and have two or three kids in a much shorter period of time. Many of these things are incompatible, and as research is just starting to show, simply harder and more stressful to do all at once in our 30s.

The post-millennial midlife crisis isn’t buying a red sports car. It’s realizing you can’t have that career you now want. It’s realizing you can’t have that child you now want, or you can’t give your child a sibling. Too many thirtysomethings and fortysomethings look at themselves, and at me, sitting across the room, and say about their 20s, “What was I doing? What was I thinking?”

[…]Here’s a story about how that can go. It’s a story about a woman named Emma. At 25, Emma came to my office because she was, in her words, having an identity crisis. She said she thought she might like to work in art or entertainment, but she hadn’t decided yet, so she’d spent the last few years waiting tables instead. Because it was cheaper, she lived with a boyfriend who displayed his temper more than his ambition.

[…]First, I told Emma to forget about having an identity crisis and get some identity capital. By “get identity capital,” I mean do something that adds value to who you are. Do something that’s an investment in who you might want to be next. I didn’t know the future of Emma’s career, and no one knows the future of work, but I do know this: Identity capital begets identity capital. So now is the time for that cross-country job, that internship, that startup you want to try. I’m not discounting twentysomething exploration here, but I am discounting exploration that’s not supposed to count, which, by the way, is not exploration. That’s procrastination. I told Emma to explore work and make it count.

I think that’s good advice. Have the goal of getting married through high school and college and the early working years. Do hard things to prepare yourself to for the hard work that marriage requires. The reason why so many people are divorcing is because they are trying to pursue happiness through their 20s, then jumping off into marriage after their lives have been wrecked by drinking, promiscuity, debts, self-centeredness and painful break-ups. That’s completely the wrong way to go about getting married.

Usually, when I meet a person who has not achieved as much as he/she wants to have done, I try to encourage the person to study hard things. Update their resume. Apply for better jobs. Start saving more money. Try to serve others. Take on more responsibilities, even if they are not fun. Usually, people understand why I am asking them to do hard things. Because the only way to develop “identity capital” is by saying “NO” to the desire for happiness, and “YES” to doing hard things. No, you can’t study philosophy. Yes, you have to study computer science. No you can’t work as a waitress. Yes, you have to apply for an office job. No, you can’t delay paying off your debts. Yes, you have to start investing $100 a month.

Structure and boundaries seem difficult to young people – like they are going to lose their ability to have fun. But in the long run, building something worthwhile is more important than short-term fun and thrills.

4 thoughts on “New study: marrying in your mid-to-late 20s confers benefits”

  1. The definition of happiness used to be “a life well-lived.” But nowadays, people think happiness means lots of thrill moments and instant gratification. A truly happy life is one that is well-planned, well-lived, and full of family and friends. The fun of a few years of doing as you please isn’t worth the fallout in time wasted, opportunities missed, and regrets. It’s best to start living life intentionally when you’re young and taking advantage of opportunities rather than assuming they will still be around later, after you’ve had your fun.

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  2. I think it’s a great idea to marry young, but that is one tough sell in today’s culture. Seriously, nothing is more frowned on then getting married young. I did it myself and so did our oldest daughter. We faced a lot of criticism as women, for allegedly throwing our lives away, for letting down society, and rather relentless predictions of doom and gloom now that we had gone and ruined our lives. I’m going on 30 years now and the kid has been married for 15.

    We have a real problem in our culture because the whole idea of marriage is really frowned upon, especially if you are young. Except for gay marriage of course, which is now perceived as a civil right.

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  3. No surprise here. The western culture says, “we are defined by our sexuality.” Therefore, explore sex, explore sex, explore sex, until one realize that it doesn’t deliver.
    God says, we are defined by our likeness to Him. He prescribes one mate, one male and one female, to commit for a lifetime, to leave and cleave and become more complete in our togetherness. Any thing less than his design will fall short. Ultimately, the lifetime of promiscuity for many years, then trying to recover the loss, will indeed be short.

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  4. Even marrying in mid-20s is no guarantee. Some 14 years into our marriage, I came to know the Lord and a spiritual divide arose between me and my atheist husband. Howard Hendricks pointed out to me (when I spoke to him regarding his talk about parents reading off the same page when raising a family) that I’m the one that changed, not my husband.
    None of this helps regarding my sons, aged 27-31, one apostate and cohabiting, not keen on having children (self-centred lifestyle), and no potential brides on the horizon for the other two – which is the big problem many young Christian adults face. Most of the Christian women are snapped up quickly, and the other young women “out there” are worldly and dodgy. Praying for divine appointments!

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