This past weekend I went to my best friend’s wedding. She has been my soul mate since fifth grade, and I am confident we will continue to plan adventures together for the rest of our lives. As we both walked down the aisle, I reflected on myself, a 30-year old Maid of Honor and my friend, a 29-year old Bride. Both of our mothers were not only married by that age, but each had two small children. As happy as I was for her, I couldn’t help but reflect on the pressure I felt to ‘settle down.’
Don’t put a ring on it
Yet, shifting trends in sexual and romantic patterns of behavior have been well documented in a wide range of fields from psychology to public health. Overwhelmingly, trends show people in the United States are engaging in premarital sex and living together unmarried with 440,000 cohabitation households in 1960 compared to 4.9 million in 1998. Interestingly, many people are simply not getting married nor living with a partner; in 1995 this was almost 28 percent of women 15–44 years of age. The proportion of the population 18 and older that had never married increased from 16% to 25% between 1970 and 2004. Higher education, higher mother’s education, and higher family income are all associated with a lower likelihood of first marriage by age 18.
Racial and ethnic differences also exist. Non-Hispanic white women are more likely to have both lived with someone and marry, while non-Hispanic black women are more likely to neither cohabit nor marry. Black women are significantly less likely to have married by age 30 than any other racial group reported. Of course, statistics only show a median; there are wide variations in every group.
Those men and women who do choose to tie the knot are waiting till later in life. The median age at first marriage has steadily increased over the past 25 years, from 22.1 to 25.6 for women and from 24.4 to 27.4 for men. Still, more than 25% of young women and more than 15% of young men still marry before their 23rd birthday. These numbers are for heterosexual couples.
Women in higher education
The statistics provide hope for women who are still in school but for whom marriage is important. While an increase in educational years also means increases in delaying marriage, people with a college education are more likely to get married (Goldstein & Kenney 2001). By their late 20s and 30s, marriage rates are greater for women with a college education than individuals with less classroom time. Attainment of a college degree is one factor that predicts stable marriages, too (importance of religion, income, and parents’ marital status are other example of predictors from a long list). Again, these numbers are for heterosexual couples.
Needless to say, there is no way to predict who will choose to marry or where the road will lead a couple. Statistics are just probabilities, not horoscopes. My friend walked down the aisle with as much uncertainty to what the future will hold as her mom did when she wore her white dress at 19. (Of course, my friend knows she has a best friend by her side). Still, if you are searching for Mr. or Ms. Right (whether you choose to marry the person or not), don’t worry, the statistics are on your side.
First comes love, then comes marriage, stay tuned for next week’s column to hear about trends in sex and baby carriages…