My grandmother was 21 when she married. She moved to the snowy mountains with her engineer husband and built a family, a career and a home all before she was 27.
I am 25, have no house, can’t hold down a relationship, and the thought of marriage and children is so far off, taking a rocket to the moon seems slight more plausible prospect for my future (and also more exciting?).
I am not the only one. Millennials aren’t getting married. Maybe we are disheartened, selfish, spoilt for choice, or over-confident. Maybe we don’t want the commitment, maybe we’re enjoying swiping right too much.
The average age for marriage in the U.S. is 27 for women and 29 for men, this is higher when you look at capital cities such as Washington DC and New York. In Australia, the numbers are similar. Between 1990 and 2010, the average age for marriage increased from 24.3 to 27.9 for women, and 26.5 to 29.6 for men.
It seems natural enough for me, as I’m thinking 26.5 is wayyyy too soon for a wedding. But, what’s behind the trend?
Money definitely has something to do with it. Many people (except for a few
lucky hard-working souls) in their 20s are facing exorbitant student debt, possible personal debts, rising house prices, increased cost of living…. all on just-above-entry-level wages due to the competitive job market. (Violins are playing, can’t you hear them?)
Symphonies aside, economic uncertainty does turn people off getting married. The snowball effect likely has something to do with this. Paying for a ceremony is one thing, the fact it’s likely to lead to paying for a mortgage, kids, childcare, etc. is another thing all together. That seems a scary amount of financial commitment for someone currently eating cereal for dinner and toast for lunch in order to pay rent.
“When there’s rough economic times, marriage rates go down,” explains Eric Klinenberg, sociologist and co-author of Aziz Ansari’s “Modern Romance: An Investigation.” “People don’t feel comfortable committing to someone during hardships.”
Money is probably the number-one thing stopping me from marrying now… Also I’m single…but money!! – Kate, 27.
People my age who are getting married are dropping like at least 50K…and I don’t know where they got it! – Claire 25.
I cannot understand how anyone in their 20s can afford to get married. – Georgie, 24.
I’d also spend that money on an overseas adventure at this stage. – Lana, 26.
Then there’s this truth…
Why do you need money to be married? Just for the ceremony do you mean? – Sam, 23.
We have ‘time’
There’s also the small matter that we believe anything is possible. We are utterly convinced we can ‘have it all’. This relates to career, travel, baby-making. Were not yet ready to settle down because we have the means to take our time. With birth control, abortion and IVF, pregnancy can be planned. And we’re using this to buy time to do the things we love.
“Contraceptives and abortion are letting women put off pregnancy and marriage longer,” Andrew Zuppann, assistant professor of economics at the University of Houston told The Washington Post. “In general, the reasons why marriage age is much later now are: birth control, technology, abortion, changes in female pay and household technology, like appliances.”
Technology and shifting industries means people, in general, are less inclined to jump into a LIFETIME commitment. i.e young people now switch jobs way more than our parent generation. Marriage is another example of this. – Genevieve, 27.
I’m scared that I haven’t had enough “me” time and do all those things on your bucket list, like exploring the world on your own. – Anne, 26.
At this point in my life, I could only get married if the person wanted to travel the world with me and live in different countries for the next decade. – Jacqueline, 23.
I’d also spend that money on an overseas adventure at this stage. – Jess, 28.
I’ve got a weird rule where I think I’ll have to be 30 before I get married. – Sarah, 25.
What’s the rush? If you’re confident you’re going to spend your life with someone, why get married at 22? – Natalie, 27.
Getting married? Nope. Ain’t nobody got time for that. – Mary, 24.
Alongside this need for ‘me time’, or perhaps driving it, society is holding us to different expectations compared to 50 years ago. The belief that the road to happiness is through marriage, children, a house, an extended family is no longer so strongly held. Men and women are finding joy and fulfilment professionally, personally, through travel, adventure and success. And society (in most cases) applauds them for it.
“People don’t see marriage as necessary for a good life,” Eric Klinenberg, sociologist and co-author told The Washington Post. “There used to be one clear path to happiness, with strong moral expectations and having children. Now there are all kinds of legitimate choices.”
I’d even say there is a bit of stigma around getting married early. I was at a wedding the other week and the priest and all the family and friends mentioned a million times how young they were. They were 24…not that young. – Emily, 26.
People aren’t afraid to wait, because there is less societal pressure. Also, people are living longer, so they’re waiting longer. – Genevieve, 27.
I got married at 21 and a lot of people thought we were too young and rushing into it. People I barely knew would advise me against it. I wanted to get married but I found it really hard to say the word “husband”. I just couldn’t say, “My husband and I…” I can’t even say it now. It sounds too old. – Kelly, 46.
This notion we can have it all? It’s exacerbated by technology. We, quite literally, have a world of opportunity for sex dating, potential relationships at the swipe of a finger.
“The dating culture has changed. There’s been a fundamental shift in the way people meet and find romance. Or even the way people in relationships communicate, due to technology,” says Klinenberg, who stressed that dating apps don’t keep people single forever, but that “they can keep you very busy when you’re single.”
I also don’t know on the whole if I definitely want to get married. I like the idea of it, but if it doesn’t happen I don’t think I’d be too devastated. – Carla, 23.
What’s stopping me? Fear of commitment. – Sharni, 26.
We don’t want a bar of it
Swiping left or right isn’t the only way technology is affecting our relationships. Millenials are a generation that have grown up with social feeds. They’ve had access to more information, faster news, at larger volumes than any generation that came before.
Because of this, we’re confronted with the divorce, ‘conscious uncoupling’, separation, infidelities, heartbreak of celebrities and social networks on a daily basis. We’ve grown up in a time where divorce is more common than it’s ever been. Where marriage is discriminatory against gay and lesbian couples and where one woman dies every week from domestic abuse in Australia. Maybe we don’t want anything to do with that.
Knowing that 50% of all couples end up in divorce is really not that exciting, it makes you question everything a bit more.
Getting married. It seems so removed, impossible… Irrelevant? .. for many millenials. But for a devoted few, they are not letting technology, ‘me time’ or bad news get in their way.
I got married at 22 and it was a very positive experience, because we were the first in all our friends it was a bit of a novelty which meant there were generally so much excitement and love around the whole celebration! – Rose, 32.
When you know it’s right, you know. That can happen at any age. – Fay, 28.
I totally had the 30 rule (not getting married till at least 30)… didn’t happen. – Sophie, 29.