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The truth about marriage

New report indicates that younger marriages result in greater stability and satisfaction


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The truth about marriage

We are often told that marrying older, when maturity levels and finances are more stable, should result in higher rates of marital success. But the data tells a different story.

In a new report from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, the Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University, and BYU’s School of Family Life, researchers found that those who marry in their early 20s are happier and more sexually fulfilled than their later-married counterparts. Sadly, two-thirds of young adults believe that getting married later in life improves the chances that a marriage will be successful. It’s a faulty assumption.

As the report characterizes the current scene, many now see marriage as a “capstone” to their success as thriving adults in the world rather than a “cornerstone” on which to build and form their lives together.

It would make more sense, however, for two who will become one to build their worlds together on a joint cornerstone. To commit to another in the trust and safety of marriage fosters the highest levels of vulnerability. Such a deep emotional space cultivates profound inner connections—the mother’s milk of nourishment to the soul. The earlier to begin receiving such sustenance, the better. Research indicates life lived in community—specifically marriage—contributes to higher rates of happiness and better mental and physical health, as well.

While not everyone is called to marriage, most are—and God patterned our hearts with a desire for another. It doesn’t mysteriously arise when you hit 30 but does so at the precipice of adulthood.

Young adulthood, however, is often positively lauded by culture as an egotistical time meant to “find yourself.” But that mentality does more for the demise of future marriage than the development of personal identity. When two people marry in their early 20s, they “find themselves” together as partners and not individuals. To craft and understand our identities as couples leads to a stronger foundation for life together. This must mean more than cohabitating, however.

“Full commitment to the future transforms a relationship,” write the authors of the marriage report. “A not-so-full-commitment relationship is quite different from a full-commitment marriage, especially for men.”

Tying the knot before climbing a career ladder may sound old-fashioned, but some things should be old-fashioned. We ought to conserve and promote an ethic that encourages young adults to marry at younger ages than what our culture currently favors.

The prevalence of later marriage isn’t good for relationships. In the last four decades, the average age of marriage for men and women has increased by about seven years. An increasingly secular culture, more prone to pre-marriage cohabitation, has made it easier to justify postponing marriage indefinitely. We know that cohabitation, even when followed by marriage, is also a marker of a higher likelihood of divorce.

Tying the knot before climbing a career ladder may sound old-fashioned, but some things should be old-fashioned. We ought to conserve and promote an ethic that encourages young adults to marry at younger ages than what our culture currently favors. Reviving enthusiasm for earlier marriage could have a butterfly effect on several vital social institutions. The report posits a few possibilities for how later marriage can have the reverse of the intended effect, one of them being the increased risk of having children out of wedlock, which is weighted with its own set of troubling statistics like child poverty and lower educational prospects.

Strong marriages safeguard society in a way nothing else does. It’s not surprising, given our Edenic beginnings with two committed to one another, commanded by God to “be fruitful and multiply.”

The most pronounced statistic in the report was regarding sexual satisfaction, with husbands and wives finding 14 percent and 11 percent higher rates of satisfaction, respectively. Younger marriage may mean less distorted notions of how sex should be and a greater desire to learn, rather than impose, past experiences on another. It jives with the concept of crafting a “we-dentity,” as the report says, that is easier in early marriage when our “personal clay” is more moldable.

There are few true-blue formulas one can follow in life to obtain success, but the marriage formula is one that works. “When children come after marriage, which comes after some education, then families are more likely to be stable and children are more likely to grow up with better outcomes,” says the report, paraphrasing prominent progressive family policy analyst Isabel Sawhill. “Few families that follow this pattern are poor, while most families that don’t are struggling.”

Given the past few decades of marital decline, many young adults have never been witnesses to a successful, long-term marriage up close. It’s a tall task to reorient cultural thinking around the value of earlier marriage, but it’s one worth taking on given the state of family decline today.


Ericka Andersen

Ericka Andersen is a freelance writer and mother of two living in Indianapolis. She is the author of Leaving Cloud 9 and is currently writing a book on women and faith to be released in 2022. Ericka hosts the Worth Your Time podcast. She has been published in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Christianity Today, USA Today, and more.


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