Love & Sex

Delaying Your Marriage Might Make You Drink More

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Or it might make you richer. One or the other. 

Despite what your Facebook newsfeed might suggest, the average marrying age is at a historical high in the United States: twenty-seven for women and twenty-nine for men. That’s according to Knot Yet, a report that explores the effects (both positive and negative) of delaying marriage, as part of the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project. 

The report breaks down various cultural and economic results of a later-in-life marriage. The greatest discrepancies in these results can be attributed to level of education and gender. For women, getting married later in life manifests itself in annual income. Women who were married after the age of thirty earned more annually than their earlier-married counterparts; for college-educated women who married in their mid-thirties, this premium amounted to an average of  $18,152 per year. This may be a result of more women foregoing marital bliss in favor of career mobility—a trend that has recently lead to suggestions that twenty-something women are embarrassed to want romantic relationships. 

Among men in their mid-thirties, however, those with the highest level of personal income had married in their mid-twenties. The lowest level of income was most prevalent in men who had never married—even lower than for men who had married prior to age twenty. This backs up past studies that show married men earn more money, due to increased self-confidence and motivation to succeed. 

But third-decade marriage isn’t all increased independence and fatter wallets: the report also showed increased rates of binge drinking and depression in non-married twenty-somethings:

“Thirty-five percent of single men and cohabiting men report they are ‘highly satisfied’ with their life, compared to 52 percent of married men. Likewise, 33 percent of single women and 29 percent of cohabiting women are ‘highly satisfied,’ compared to 47 percent of married women.”

It’s a vague statistic though (“highly satisfied" could mean anything from an endless supply of Cheetos to a house in the Hamptons to daily sex), and it’s potentially misleading. Increased life satisfaction could be the result of marriage being an endorphin-increasing road to happiness, or it could mean that young people are waiting to get married until they have achieved happiness elsewhere, rather than the other way around. Whereas marriage used to mark the beginning of adult life, now it seems to be a thing you do after your adult life is already settled. 

As for the binge drinking, this could just be because non-married people tend to socialize in different ways than married people do, and, when singles are chatting up potential life partners at the bar, some social lubricant makes it so much easier. 

Somewhat unexpectedly, this general trend in postponing matrimonial bliss doesn’t extend to having babies. While the ages at which women are giving birth has increased since the 1980s, the rate is much smaller  than the rate at which marriage is delayed.  By age 25, 44 percent of women have had a baby, while only 38 percent have married. This leads to what Knot Yet refers to as the “Great Crossover”: 

“This crossover happened decades ago among the least economically privileged. The crossover among “Middle American” women—that is, women who have a high-school degree or some college—has been rapid and recent. By contrast, there has been no crossover for college-educated women, who typically have their first child more than two years after marrying. Now the median age at first marriage for women lags about a year behind that of first birth.”

It’s easy to credit rising college debt, high unemployment rates and fear of divorce with this trend in postponing matrimonial bliss. But cultural shifts and social shifts are also factors: education and career choices hold more weight for both men and women, and life trajectories are no longer facing the rigid bounds of earlier decades. Looks like it won’t be long before romantic comedies are ending with work promotions and not wedding planners.