Changing times for marriage

By Amanda Murphy

Aspiring entrepreneur and student Hallie Stern, 21, doesn’t plan on getting married until her 30’s. Like many women of her generation, Stern plans on having a career first, a relatively new concept for women.

Recent figures gathered by the American Community Survey on marital status, completed by the U.S. Census Bureau, revealed Americans are waiting longer to get married. With a number of factors contributing to the rise, experts think the trend is likely to increase because of the recession.

According to the survey, in 2009 the average age for first-time marriage was roughly 28 for men, 26 for women. The numbers have gradually risen since 1970, when the average age for a man to be married was approximately 23 and the average age for a woman was nearly 21.

Christine Percheski, assistant sociology professor at Northwestern University, said that the numbers aren’t surprising. Because of greater educational pressures and higher costs of living, people are waiting longer to be married for the first time because it makes financial sense.

Percheski attributed the increase in average age to the social acceptance of couples cohabitating without being married.

The census also revealed that the number of people marrying between the ages of 15–19 is declining.

Since 2005, the number of teenagers tying the knot has slowly decreased to 0.7 percent from 1.3 percent, dropping by nearly half in four years.

On average, the number of people getting married has also decreased over the years. In 2005, nearly 56 percent of the population over 15 was married. In 2009, that number dropped to around 51 percent.

The founder of Couples Counseling Associates, Dr. Sara Schwarzbaum, said this figure reflects many factors, including humans living longer than they have in the past.

“Marriages that used to last 30–40 years are now lasting 60 years,” Schwarzbaum said. Consequently people are more cautious about making that long-term commitment, she said.

A change in gender roles also delays marriage for women, she said. With women spending more time on their education and careers, marriage is becoming more of an afterthought than a necessity.

Percheski said the narrowing of the marital age gap shows how our society is changing.

“Men and women are now marrying at more similar ages than they have in the past,” she said.

Economic factors also play a major role in why Americans wait longer for marriage. Percheski said after World War II, returning young soldiers had their military salary to help pay for a wedding and put a down payment on a house.

However, with a increasing cost of living and mounting debt, many couples choose to wait and save to afford the lives they want together.

Percheski said the recession could influence the numbers of people getting married and divorced, as has happened in previous economically tough times. However, she said she doesn’t expect the ages to be affected that much, maybe only by a few months.

“There will be couples that put off getting married for a year or two,” Percheski said. “The topic of divorce is a little more unclear.”