When to get married is one of the most debated topics among my group of friends. It is becoming more apparent that most do not intend to tie the knot until they are in their late twenties or thirties, if at all. Indeed, the desire to postpone marriage is on par with the rising trend in the age of first marriage in the United States.1 In 2011, the average age of marriage for men and women is 28.7 and 26.5 respectively compared to 24.7 (men) and 22 (women) in 1980 (read more about age differences here). However, regardless of the reasons behind the delay in marriage, research suggests this may not be a wise move.
A recent study2 explored the link between the age of first marriage and marital success by drawing on data from 20,000+ surveys collected across the United States. Marital success was indicated by both the survival (i.e., intact vs. divorce) and quality of the marriage (e.g. the level of happiness and satisfaction in the relationship). Results revealed that marital success improves as the age in which one entered marriage increases, but only up to the age of 25. Marital success is greatest for those who married between the ages of 22-25 and plateaus after 26. Although people who married after the age of 26 were just as likely to stay married, their marriages had poorer quality compared to those who were married between the ages of 22-25 years.
If you are panicking because you are 26 or older and fear you have missed the boat, here is some good news. The researchers believe it may not be age, but rather a host of other factors, that underlie the reported findings. Here are a few possible explanations:
1. Maybe couples that marry at younger ages are more flexible and therefore more likely to accommodate to each other’s lifestyle. In contrast, those who are single for longer periods may be more entrenched in their beliefs and thus have greater difficulties adjusting to marriage (an idea that the researchers label the coordinated development hypothesis).
2. Researchers also suspect that those who marry at later ages may be more likely to have poor and unsuccessful relationships prior to entering marriage and consequently develop characteristics that are not conducive to marriage (the destructive relationship experiences hypothesis).
3. It is possible is that some people may have missed opportunities to capitalize on potentially good partners in search for better ones. After exhausting the opportunities, these people eventually enter into the marriages at later ages that may not be the most ideal one for them (the length of search hypothesis).
Although research cannot conclusively claim that early- to mid-twenties is the ideal age to get married, it suggests that postponing marriage may not be the best way to enhance a marriage’s survival or quality. In fact, while you are waiting, you may miss out on the perks that marriage brings. So, if you’re in your early to mid-20s and think you are ready to tie the knot, why wait any longer? Go on. Take a leap of faith.
1U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, March and Annual Social and Economic Supplements, 2011 and earlier.
2Glenn, N. D., Uecker, J. E. & Love, R.W.B. (2010). Later first marriage and marital success. Social Science Research, 39, 787-800.
Sonia Ip - Graduate Student, Clinical Psychology, The Australian National University
Sonia is a Registered Psychologist in Australia and is currently a doctoral student. Her thesis examines the role of alcohol in the early stages of romantic relationships, as well as the characteristics of intimate relationships among individuals with alcohol use disorders.