Sooner vs. later: Is there an ideal age for first marriage?
By Sharon Jayson, USA TODAY
Emily Becker wanted to be married by age 30. In June, at age 28, she and Joe Becker, 29, were married. They were the last of their group to tie the knot. Even though they began dating in 2003 — around the same time as most of their friends — "it took us almost twice as long to get married," she says. "We both knew we wanted to marry each other. We just kept having to put it off."
The reason? Careers. Both are doctors. They spent four years in medical school. Three years of residency were in different cities. They got engaged in October of last year and now live in San Francisco.
"If we had been together in the same city, I think maybe we would have married sooner," he says.
Like many young adults today, the Beckers waited to marry until they felt the time was right. Others are also holding off while maintaining a single-but-together status that can last years. That may be one reason the age at first marriage has been climbing steadily for all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups. The median age is now the oldest since the U.S. Census started keeping track in the 1890s: almost 26 for women and almost 28 for men.
And as young people wait longer to marry, there is growing debate over whether waiting is a good idea, and if so, how long is best. Those who advocate marriage in the early to mid-20s say that's the age when the pool of possible mates is larger, it's when couples can "grow up" together and it's prime for childbearing. But others favor the late 20s or early 30s, saying maturity makes for happier unions and greater economic security — both of which make divorce less likely.
As a result, researchers, sociologists and family experts are taking a closer look at the attitudes behind the trend to see if there really is an optimum age to marry that maximizes the benefits of matrimony and minimizes possible problems.
"It's better not to get married as a teenager," says sociologist Andrew Cherlin of Johns Hopkins University. "Beyond that, I don't think there's an ideal age."
A study being drafted by sociologist Norval Glenn of the University of Texas-Austin finds that those who marry in the early to mid-20s are slightly happier and less likely to break up than those who marry in the later 20s, but are significantly more satisfied with their relationships than those who marry at 30 or older.