July 16, 2012 § 6 Comments
Never been kissed? Are you a 40-year-old virgin? Can’t hardly wait? Operation Dumbo Drop?
Wait, one of those doesn’t fit. I meant to say “Fools rush in” instead of “Can’t hardly wait.” Yes, that’s it.
I continue my endless and sometimes fruitless journey to understand love and relationships with a look at marriage relative to age. In baseball we have a term called “age relative to league” that compares a baseball prospects age against the average age of other players in that league. The younger you are compared to the players around you, generally the better. You want to see athletes be better at a younger age, giving them more room for growth and advancement as they get older and then who knows how successful they could be later on in life.
This does not work the same for marriage. It’s harder to grow and advance in relationships or getting to know more about yourself during those formative years of your late teens and early-to-mid 20s. This was hardly the case only a couple of generations ago, but in the modern era, people simply are growing faster and waiting longer. Now those years are time for “experience” and that experience won’t be the same if you’re in the most serious relationship of all: marriage.
Take Lorraine for example.
This innocent Yahoo! Answers question posted three years ago asks “How many people get married after 30 or 35?“
The asker, Cathy, was “Just curious? And had kids?” Cathy was already feeling pressured to get married at 24, but the answer re-assured her that she could and probably should wait before rushing into anything. Something that Lorraine apparently did not do and look how long it took her to regret it:
“i am 18 and married, its been 3 months and i should of waited. still sooo immature and hard to understand eachother. and no kids yet, thank god. but we trying to keep it going, and we will, just going to be tough. so wait and think hard.”
Only three months into her marriage, Lorraine seems to deeply regret it. She acknowledges she’s too immature for this marriage, and we acknowledge that she still think that “Should of” is the same as “Should have” when it’s clearly not. And clearly, Lorraine was not ready for marriage.
What made her rush into this? How could she have been so blind before marriage and then make this realization only after the license was issued and the “I Do’s” were said? Who names their kid Lorraine if they were born after 1960?
So many questions and so few answers.
I delve deeper into marriage and age today to take a look at how important it really is but also noting that no matter how long you wait, the odds say you’ll eventually
sacrifice pledge your eternal love to someone.
Just like baseball, let’s turn to the statistics and ignore the chemistry:
There are almost as many unmarried adults as there are married ones
In 1960, over 70% of people over the age of 18 were married. Think about how much of a loser you would have felt like if you were unmarried at 26 during the free love period of the sixties. Being a 40-year-old virgin today is the equivalent of being a 22-year-old virgin in 1960 when you account for inflation.
A report from the Pew Research Center of last year shows that now just 51% of Americans over 18 are married. Think about how significant that difference is.
The difference between being the only odd person out in a group of four against being in that same group of four fifty years later and knowing you have a single buddy. Then again, does that mean that in your previous group of four that you were single and the other three were all married to each other? Man, those sixties were wild times!
Whatever happened to key parties? Not even NBC shows about swingers are popular anymore, let alone actual swingers. But also that could just be because its NBC.
Professor Stephanie Coontz of Evergreen State College (where my younger cousin goes to school. She better not learn about sex there, Mrs. Coontz!!!) explains that a large part of that drop off is the wait to get married. Now at 26 for women and 28 for men.
“And that’s actually a good thing, because the longer a woman delays marriage, right up into her early 30s, the lower her chances of divorce. But it does totally change the social weight of married households in our economy, our society, our politics.”
Notice how she stresses not how long “people” delay marriage, but how long women delay marriage. It’s the women that typically are asked the question, so its the women that have the power of when. I’m sure that women can find themselves in several situations during their twenties where the question is popped but just because its being asked doesn’t mean that the answer has to be “Yes.”
I couldn’t imagine that amount of pressure being put on a person in that situation, especially if they think its too soon but really like the person, but the delay until the time is right could be crucial to the success of the relationship.
I would also say that there is almost no situation in which you are a teenager in America that the answer should ever be “Yes! Yes! A thousand times yes!” Do you hear me, Lorraine?
The wait is important and has also reduced the number of married couples in the U.S. thanks to fewer and fewer people being married in their early-to-mid twenties. How much fewer?
Women and men married before 25 is only a fraction of what it used to be.
According to 2003 Census data, the number of men and women married in their early 20s is only a relatively small fraction of what it was in 1970. As a matter of fact, less than half as many women in their early 20s are married compared to the sexy seventies.
Back in 1970, only 35.8% of women age 20-24 had never been married, and only 54.7% of men were in the same boat. (The large difference between men and women obviously being because women typically marry older, meaning that you’ll have your best shot at marrying a college co-ed if you are her professor.) Compare that data to 2003 when a whopping 75.4% of women age 20-24 had never been married and 86% of men under-25 were also sans wedding ring.
Think about how phenomenal a difference that is over a relatively short amount of time. That data likely shrinks even more when you take into account women who are pursuing college degrees and a career before they get started on the family life, something much more common than it was back in the days of the Beegees and psychedelics.
Up the ante to the second half of your 20s and a lot more people are getting married, but still a large pool of single people:
Just 10.5% of women were never married by 30 in 1970 compared to 40.3% in 2003.
Just 19.1% of men under 30 were never married compared to 54.6% of men in 2003.
Last week I had written on this site about my own situation as an almost 30-year-old single nerd, but we can trust the data: I’m in the majority, not the minority. Not even women can feel left out if they’re still unwed by 30, as 2 in 5 bridesmaids have never been a bride at your best friends wedding that you hate so much.
Don’t worry, you’re doing the right thing and you’re still on the track to tying the knot, if that’s even a good thing!
By the time you’re 45, there’s a solid chance you’ve been married at least once (and probably divorced at least once, but if you waited until you were 30 there’s a much lower chance you’ve been divorced more than once. That’s just science.) because only 19.5% of men and 13.2% of women as of 2003 were never married by this age.
And even if you don’t believe in the sanctity of marriage and think the whole thing is a sham, there’s plenty of precedent for doing the exact same thing that Dick & Jane are doing but never going to a church or Las Vegas to make it official.
The increase in unmarried couple households since 1970 was seven-fold.
Credit back to userniche.com on finding and compiling this stat from the US Census Bureau in a 2001 study that showed non-married couples went from 523,000 in 1970 to 4,000,000 in 1996. Some of this can be attributed to the fact that there are just more people, but not all of it.
Part of the changing landscape of what society deems “acceptable” had a major influence on the number of non-married couples living together and having families as of today. Even Hollywood hunk George Clooney has said that he’ll never get married again. (Search Engine Optimization. Search Engine Optimization. Search Engine Optimization.)
There’s nothing inherently wrong with loving somebody and raising a family without getting the law involved. However, that doesn’t mean that the government doesn’t want to be involved or that it’s not beneficial to technically be married.
Kicking it back to the article on PBS:
RAY SUAREZ: Well, you have talked about these big life moments, but have they responded to the fact that marriage has changed in this way over the last 50 years? Our tax laws, the way we build houses, the way we award property in courts, all kinds of things are still built around marriage.
Indeed, there are tax benefits and housing benefits to those of us that don’t “Kurt Russell-Goldie Hawn” our lifestyle.
To be married is to benefit. But the bonus is that we don’t have to rush into these benefits. We are not going to die at age 45 anymore, we can raise a family sometime in our 30s and even into the 40s. For men, even later because it’s not a health hazard to ejaculate your baby ghosts like it is to push out an actual baby.
Just the idea of getting into a financial mess and responsibility like a house or a baby boggle my mind at age 29, but with each passing year it gets a little less “boggly” (would be the scientific term.)
Those same benefits (to some degree) will still be around if you wait another 5 or 10 years.
What about other explanations towards the decrease in marriage and the idea that it’s better to wait these days?
The mental aspect of what it means to fall in love, get married and divorced, and “growing up” can be a burden many of us will wait on.
Yourtango.com tackles a few of the mental aspects of waiting on marriage in this 2010 article. I believe they all hold at least a little bit of wait (that’s a play on words, y’all):
- A “soul mate” fetish
- Most of us have parents that divorced and don’t want to make the same mistake.
- We don’t want to become “adults”
- The “career” labyrinth
- Birth control aka we can have sex without babies like all of the time now
The first one I’ve said time and time again: People have an obsession with finding something perfect, when perfect doesn’t exist. You have to learn to live with peoples faults just as much as you get to enjoy living with their positives. There is no “perfect.” The best marriage you’ll ever see is probably only the parts that they’re willing to show. I’d wager that if you grew up in a married household, you got to see first-hand what would never be shown outside of the household.
That marriage and family are difficult, but even the most successful ones are successful simply because they worked on it. Relationships don’t come without a little bit of work and frankly, if you are constantly looking for the perfect soulmate you’ll be looking for a looong time up until the moment you decide “Oh duh, you were my soul mate. I just decided that I am completely changing my criteria because I’ve been waiting for 39 years and sure you can borrow my car and my debit card, here’s my pin number.”
I can totally dig the idea that we fear divorce more than ever simply because it’s been driven so hard into our brains over the last twenty years: 50% end in divorce… 50% end in divorce… 50% end in divorce… 50% end in divorce…
Divorce is the new Bogeyman and so many of us are strictly determined to not get married unless we feel very confident that it’s the right decision. That kind of confidence doesn’t come lightly.
The last one about sex just makes me kind of giggle. Not just because “sex” but thinking back to our grandparents age when it was strictly forbidden to have sex before marriage so of course you would get married when you started getting tingly feelings in gym class five or six years ago and now you’re finally old enough to get married and married = sex with a girl.
Of course it wasn’t always like that for everyone and of course there’s still people that wait until marriage today, but the entire cultural landscape has flip-flopped. You don’t have to wait until marriage to have sex, you only have to get her to agree. (Which for me is at least twice as hard as finding a girl to marry.)
The part where I say “In Conclusion”
We started this article off with the story of Lorraine. She got married probably at around the same age that another Lorraine, the one that married George McFly, got married, but they didn’t get married at the same time. That’s the critical part. Not the age, the time.
Lorraine McFly got married in a much different time than Lorraine H. Maybe in 1985 Lorraine McFly had some regrets, but that was still thirty years of solid marriage because those were different times. These days, there is no need to rush into marriage as a teenager or even as a young adult in your 20s. Time is now… on your side.
People were perhaps a bit more mature, had to grow up faster, back in the 50s, 60s, or even 70s. I think this other Yahoo! Question, this time coming from Lorraine H herself, explains why not all people that are 18 anymore are ready to get married. Are you f%@#ing ready for this….