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Don’t Get Married Until You Know Who You’re Going To Be When You Grow Up

May. 4, 2015 Forbes

When should you get married? One easy answer is in June, the month that has traditionally seen the most weddings. The more important question these days, though, is what is the right age to marry. In the 1950s most people married, and they married young. If a woman reached her mid-20s still single, she might find that the best men were gone. If she reached 30 still unmarried and with a graduate degree and a good job, her marital prospects could be bleak.

Today the age of marriage still matters, but not in the same way. We have all heard discouraging words about divorce, the warning that almost half of all marriages end in it. The odds improve considerably, though, for those who wait. In every era, the odds of a marriage’s lasting have increased for those who postponed the nuptials from their mid- to their late teens. Even in the 1950s, marriages were more likely to endure for those who married in their early 20 than in their late teens. Beyond that, divorce rates leveled off. Today, marriage has become more likely to endure with even greater delay. Behind those statistics are five important lessons.

 1. Marriage has changedMarriage has become a sign of adulthood; it is no longer a road map for how to get there. Marriage in the 1950s was designed to manage sexuality and to produce children. In 1960, 30% of brides were pregnant at the altar, and most of the rest sought to have children soon after. Once the children came, a wife was expected to devote herself to home and family, while the husband earned the family’s daily bread. Women got married at an average age of 20, to a man two to three years older. These 20-somethings weren’t necessarily ready for marriage; indeed, they often didn’t know each other all that well. Yet once the children came they were stuck with each other. They didn’t have to spend much time together—a man could hang out with his buddies while the wife planned things with her own family and friends.

Today the average age of marriage is close to 29 for men and over 26 for women. Both spouses usually expect to work, and they depend on each other to help with children, chores and mortgage payments. People want a partner they can trust, who is flexible enough to trade off career moves, sick children and layoffs. To figure out what it means to have found a true partner, you need to know who you will be when you grow up and what your adult self will need to flourish.

2. This means you need to finish school, and not just because sharing student loans is tough. If you decide to get another degree after college, the process of moving on to business school or law school or medical school is going to change you, refine your ambitions, introduce you to new people and change your views of what kind of partner you want.

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