Why Millennials Are (Smartly) Waiting to Get Married

I’ve written over 120 blog posts that have to do with marriage, but every time I get a new data point, I feel it’s worth my while to share it with you.

Today’s article is music to my own ears: “Put a Ring on It? Millennial Couples Are in No Hurry.” Say what you will about this young adult generation but hopefully, they’re learning from the mistakes of their elders. Then again, they may not be. Perhaps they’re just hesitant to marry because they have more economic uncertainty and are more committed to a life of freedom (the gig economy, AirBnB, Tinder) than, say, GenX.

Say what you will about this young adult generation but hopefully, they’re learning from the mistakes of their elders.

More likely than not, it’s both.

“Julianne Simson, 24, and her boyfriend, Ian Donnelly, 25, are typical. They have been dating since they were in high school and have lived together in New York City since graduating from college, but are in no rush to get married.

Ms. Simson said she feels “too young” to be married. “I’m still figuring out so many things,” she said. “I’ll get married when my life is more in order.”

She has a long to-do list to get through before then, starting with the couple paying down student loans and gaining more financial security. She’d like to travel and explore different careers, and is considering law school.”

I wrote about this in a piece called “The Millennial Success Sequence,” which basically puts your twenties and thirties in an order designed for optimal results: degree, job, marriage, then kids, as opposed to, say, starting with kids and working backward.

The article was based on reports from eHarmony and Match, which remind us that, for all the change in the world, most people are on the same page with what they want – to take the time to make smarter choices in love.

Nearly 70 percent of singles surveyed by Match.com recently as part of its eighth annual report on singles in America said they wanted a serious relationship. And the median age of marriage has risen to 29.5 for men and 27.4 for women in 2017.

And the median age of marriage has risen to 29.5 for men and 27.4 for women in 2017.

The one piece of information that challenged a pre-conceived belief of mine was the efficacy of “friends with benefits” to translate into a real relationship. I generally tell women to dump men if they haven’t become boyfriends in 6-8 weeks.

Sure enough, “Over half of millennials who said they had had a friends with benefits relationship said it evolved into a romantic relationship…And some 40 percent of millennials said a platonic friendship had evolved into a romantic relationship, with nearly one-third of the 40 percent saying the romantic attachment grew into a serious, committed relationship.”

So there you go. There are a million ways to find lasting love, and thanks to big data, we now know what works best, in general. Get your education. Get some life experience. Date for 2-3 years minimum before getting married (unless you’re 39 and want kids). And chances are, you’ll avoid many of the mistakes made by the very generation that’s giving you all this advice.

Your thoughts, below, are greatly appreciated.

Join our conversation (24 Comments).
Click Here To Leave Your Comment Below.

Comments:

  1. 1
    Emily, the original

    I think there’s a big difference between meeting and seriously dating someone in your mid-20s and then marrying in your late 20s than deciding in your late 20s to look for a spouse. By your late 20s, the market has really, really thinned. The irony is that  a lot of people aren’t ready to pick someone in their mid-20s or even in their late 20s (or the person they pick is all wrong for them).

  2. 2
    Michelle

    My partner and I are considering marriage at 38 and 42 respectively. It’s a brilliant time of life to approach marriage as we are mature, financially stable, have overcome some tough times and have some wild stories to tell! At this age we have very little FOMO and commitment just feels right. We look forward to a life of fun and companionship together.

  3. 3
    sylvana

    I think we won’t be able to truly tell where this trend is going until twenty or thirty years from now. If the majority of them actually ends up getting married and staying married, then it is certainly a successful strategy.

    But I think it’s also likely that marriage is on the way out for that generation and the following ones. They are growing up with way too many options. And I think women who grew up focusing on careers, supporting themselves, and being completely independent will have a much harder time giving all that up to become wives and mothers. Especially, considering the low chance of security from the husbands/fathers.

    At best, they might take a quick break from their careers to spit out a kid. Then leave it to be raised by others while they resume their careers.

    Cohabitation and co-parenting styles without marriage are already on the rise in other nations. We’ll see if that trend picks up here, as well.

    I absolutely believe that waiting to establish a career and doing the things you love before you have children is vital. My parents did it, and we never lacked for anything, and never felt as if our parents missed out on anything.

    But I wonder if the younger generation still sees marriage and family as a goal at all. Or if all this “I’m in no hurry” talk is really another way of saying I’m not sure yet if I want it at all. They do seem to have a much more casual outlook on relationship altogether. And considering that if one person annoys you too much, the next is only a swipe away.

    Overall, I think the trend has changed from two people working to establish a common goal to each person working separately to establish their individual goals. And that could well prove the end of the traditional family.

    The friends with benefits to serious relationship trend doesn’t surprise me at all. Coming from Europe, I consider that normal wherever the culture has a more casual outlook on sex than here.

  4. 4
    Yet Another Guy

    Millennials are doing a lot of things differently such as choosing to live in urban centers instead of suburbia.  I believe that the main driving factor for post-college millennial behavior in the U.S. is student debt.  People in my generation who could not afford to attend college either did not attend or they attended adult evening college (a.k.a. night school) while working full time.  Another thing I have noticed is that Millennials who borrow to attend college also tend to borrow to live on campus (i.e., the full college experience), often out of state or at private colleges.  Baby Boomers were raised by parents whose families survived the Great Depression.  Borrowing for the full college experience was out of the question.  College usually meant being a commuter at a state school with a part-time job.

    1. 4.1
      Olongapo

      I think this is a factor for a certain demographic but I do believe that it’s across all classes in this Country.  Student debt is absolutely crippling.  I have a friend who’s child just graduated as a Pharmacist and owes……….$220,000.00.  WTF?  That’s the price of a house.  The kid is married (which is odd compared to his in-group)  It will be a while before they’re able to get a handle on this but those aren’t the points I wanted to make.

      I think millennials are putting off marriage because 1) They don’t have to, nor is it expected of them. 2) Marriage for young men is really scary.  Your risk of losing everything in a divorce is extremely high. 3) Young adults across all classes are now in a period of extended of adolescence. You just don’t have to grow up like you used to. 4) Women don’t have to depend on men anymore. You can manage your fertility with drugs and simply just enjoy yourself in your 20’s without the risk of pregnancy and if you do find yourself pregnant without a husband, the State will act as a surrogate.  Women also are matching men in earning power and why would you place that potential at risk through marriage and children?

      Why do it?  For most younger folks, not marrying young just make sense assuming we’re all rational actors.  Marriage is legal contract that is no longer binding that has a lot of downsides as a result of No-Fault divorce laws. Try defaulting on a car loan and see what happens.

      I believe that we’ll start seeing short-term, renewable contracts that resemble “marriage” soon. with hold-harmless and opt-out clauses when the tingles go away.  Having children will require a different type of contract that legally binds both parents to the task of raising children with very real monetary consequences if one parent or the other chooses to detonate the marriage without good cause.

       

      1. 4.1.1
        Yet Another Guy

        @Olongapo

        Marriage for young men is really scary.  Your risk of losing everything in a divorce is extremely high.

        The risk is no higher than it was for my generation.  Plus, Millennial women often outearn Millenial men straight out of college.  That was rare in my generation.

        The part about extended adolescence bears fruit. Men of my generation were less babied than Millennial men.  However, my generation is also responsible for babying Millennials; therefore, the responsibility for their failure to launch falls squarely on our shoulders.

  5. 5
    Gala

    People are putting off marriage because marriage means the end of fun and carefree existence. I don’t know why you wouldn’t put it off for as long as possible. I don’t know why you’d want to marry or cohabitate at all if you’re making your own money and don’t want kids. Marriage is just too often (and especially for women) not a good deal. Would you rather go shopping and sipping cocktails with your girlfriends or go home and be a wife with all the duties that come with it? The same goes for men. People are voting with their feet, so to speak.

    1. 5.1
      jeremy

      I think that many people see it that way, Gala, and I think it’s an unfortunate effect of our culture.  I’ve never had so much fun, such a pleasant existence, so much happiness in all 5 ways a person can be happy, as when I’ve been married.  But that’s because my attitude toward marriage is not that it’s the end of a fun and care-free existence, but rather the beginning of happiness.  Fun and care-free, after all, are synonyms for positive affect.  Engagement, relationships, meaning and achievement have nothing to do with fun and care-free, and in fact are in some ways opposite to it.  In essence, I guess what I’m saying is that it is understandable that people associate happiness with positive affect, but it’s generally incorrect.  The things that give our lives the greatest meaning are often the ones that are the most difficult.

      1. 5.1.1
        Tom10

        “I think it’s an unfortunate effect of our culture.  I’ve never had so much fun”
         
        Surely it’s a positive effect of our culture Jeremy:
         
        –         people are much more aware of the risks from the outset; statistics show that those who get married later have healthier and longer-lasting marriages.
        –         people get their “fun exploring-self” days out of the way early so they can then focus on others once they do eventually go down the marriage path
        –         fewer people feel stigma or pressure to follow a societal script; so the reasons for those who do eventually get married are much healthier overall.
         
        I actually think most people don’t acquire sufficient maturity and selflessness to consider first-time-marriage until their 50s, however, unfortunately Mother Nature won’t allow us wait that long. 🙁

        1. Gala

          What Tom said 🙂

          why is marriage and children considered the pinnacle of goodness? There are many ways to find happiness and surely in the mordern post-industrial world we don’t need marriage for survival purposes, and we don’t even need more kids, the planet is overpopulated as it is. I have no nostalgia for the “good old days” whatsoever

        2. Jeremy

          I don’t think it is necessarily a positive effect of our culture, Tom. Or rather, I think it is positive for fewer people than it is negative for others. There are people in this world who are not suited for marriage – they don’t want it or it isn’t congruent with their personality or life goals. For them, it’s not that “putting off” marriage is desirable, it’s that marriage itself isn’t desirable. But for those people who do want marriage, for whom a coupled family life is the goal, I think that the most important factor in the ultimate success of the marriage is the attitude of both partners toward marriage. And that attitude is definitely affected, not so much by the fact that marriage has been put off, but rather by WHY marriage has been put off.

          I think that some people put off marriage until certain life goals have been attained. Marriage was always their goal, but perhaps they wanted to wait until they graduated from school, or got a job. Perhaps they saw the stats that early marriage tends to lead to higher divorce rates, so they purposely slowed things down until they were a bit older. But the partners they always looked for were those with marriageable qualities – people they could see themselves marrying. In such cases, putting off marriage can be a good thing for marital success. But people who put off marriage in order to sow wild oats, to have fun and experience novelty after novelty before “settling down,” these are the people who, I believe, are sabotaging their long-term goals. Because when you wire your brain to believe that fun equals novelty, that’s how you’ll always see it. When you wire your brain to believe that the medication for stress is sex with new partners, that’s what your brain will always crave. And when you believe that the only difference between marriage and uncommitted relationships is a piece of paper from the government, you won’t necessarily see that piece of paper as meaning anything in the end. It’s not that people who behave this way can’t have successful marriages, but doing so will be harder for them IME, much harder.

          When you spend your youth rehearsing for Othello, you can’t expect to go on stage and somehow perform Macbeth. When you spend your youth eating only chocolate, you can’t expect to somehow abandon it and eat only chicken salad for the rest of your life, even if you know it’s better for you.

          There’s a reason the curve plotting age of marriage vs. divorce risk is U-shaped, not downwardly linear. It’s because people don’t “get their fun exploring self days out of the way so they can focus on other things” – when you train yourself to focus on yourself, yourself is what you’ll focus on. So much bad advice out there with the best of intentions…..if marriage is your goal, practice for marriage. Start with the goal and work backwards.

        3. Tom10

          @ Jeremy
          “When you spend your youth rehearsing for Othello, you can’t expect to go on stage and somehow perform Macbeth. When you spend your youth eating only chocolate, you can’t expect to somehow abandon it and eat only chicken salad for the rest of your life, even if you know it’s better for you.”
           
          I completely disagree with this. Sorry!
           
          I always wanted to own my own house, however, it took some time to prepare mentally for the responsibility of a mortgage and also to know where to live/what type of accommodation I’d like. So I spent my 20s renting to figure this all out. Then voila, one day I made a decision, got the mortgage and bought a house. Took to it like a duck to water. All the years in short-term lets laid the groundwork for when I’d be ready to make the ultimate commitment. Messing up the commitment due to poor preparation could have had catastrophic consequences.
           
          Prudent behavior in my book.
           
          I always wanted to have my own business; however, it took some time to prepare mentally for the responsibilities of a business and also to know what type etc. So I spent my 20s moving from firm to firm to figure it all out. Then voila, one day I made a decision and went out and did it. All the years in different firms laid the groundwork for when I’d be ready to make the ultimate commitment. Messing up the commitment due to poor preparation could have had catastrophic consequences.
           
          Prudent behavior in my book.
           
          Likewise, I always had a vague goal that when I was older – i.e. mid/late 30s – to be in a ltr/marriage, however, it took some time to prepare mentally for the responsibility of commitment and also to know what type of partner I’d like. So I spent my 20s flitting from str to str to figure this all out. Then voila, one day I’ll make a decision and make the commitment. All the years moving from str to str laid the groundwork for when I’d be ready to make the ultimate commitment. Messing up the commitment due to poor preparation could have had catastrophic consequences.
           
          Prudent behavior in my book.
           
          “if marriage is your goal, practice for marriage. Start with the goal and work backwards.”
           
          My point is that for the majority of people their goals change over time; and for many people the goal of marriage only becomes an issue at certain periods in their lives.
           
          So when the goal is marriage practice for marriage. But when the goal is short-term practice for short-term. It’d be madness for an individual to practice for marriage if they’ve no intention going down that path for another 10 or 15 years.
           
          I see no reason why one can’t change their behavior from one mindset to another at the flick of a switch when their goals changes; exactly like they do in other aspects of life like when buying a house or starting a business.

        4. jo

          Jeremy, you bring up a lot of good things to think about, but you seem to be making conclusions that aren’t supported by evidence.

          Do you have a page showing the u-shape curve of divorce risk by age of marriage? Even if this is curve is proved by science, it might not be because older people had been “sowing their oats”. They might have wanted marriage all this time, but regardless whether they were trying to sow oats or if they were looking for a partner, they still would find it much harder to live with someone else after having lived by themselves for decades. That is just as plausible a reason for more divorce among later-marrieds.

          Also the idea of sowing oats seems more common among men. But over all the world (anyway, Europe, Japan, India and now China), it is women who are more reluctant to marry now, not because they want to sow wild oats, but becuase they don’t see what’s in it for them to get married. They don’t want to sacrifice in all the ways they saw the married women around them sacrifice.

          The way to deal with that is not to guilt them into it by saying they’re selfish or shallow by not marrying, but by insuring better balance of marriage chores. Evan has talked about this recently, and maybe this problem just hasn’t been solved yet. Until that happens, we’re just gonna see fewer and fewer women wanting to get married… for good reasons IMO.

        5. jeremy

          Tom, you waited to buy your house until you were mature enough to afford the mortgage.  That’s fair.  But if you’d spent your youth defaulting on loans, no bank would float you a cent.  For good reason.  You waited until you felt ready to start your own business – very responsible.  But if you’d spent your youth starting businesses that were not well thought-out and repeatedly went bankrupt, again banks would wisely consider you to be a bad gamble.  It’s not that I disagree with waiting to marry until one feels responsible – I totally get that.  My problem is with practicing the antithesis of marriage, developing circuitry in the brain to like that way of living, and then expecting yourself to suddenly mature out of it and live in a totally opposite way.  It’s not impossible, but it’s really challenging for most people.

           

          Jo, here’s a link to one study. https://ifstudies.org/blog/want-to-avoid-divorce-wait-to-get-married-but-not-too-long/

        6. Tom10

          @ Jeremy
          “That’s fair.  But if you’d spent your youth defaulting on loans, no bank would float you a cent.”
           
          A bit apples and oranges.
           
          Defaulting on loans isn’t really comparable to leaving a short-term-relationship; bank loans are given out with written legal contracts and written conditions. Which were then explicitly invalidated in the case of default. Break in trust. A bank now has reasonable foundation to predict future behavior and refuse future loans.
           
          Short-term-relationships, however, have no written contracts and no written conditions; therefore leaving one doesn’t invalidate any contract. No break in trust. Therefore there is no foundation to predict future behavior and refuse to enter future relationships with that person (of course, in a free society, one can exercise personal bias according to whatever criteria suit them).
           
          “My problem is with practicing the antithesis of marriage, developing circuitry in the brain to like that way of living, and then expecting yourself to suddenly mature out of it and live in a totally opposite way”
           
          As a medical professional I’m sure you’re very aware of brain plasticity; the ability of the brain to modify its connections to re-wire itself?
           
          If one has developed circuitry in the brain to like a particular way of living then it doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to predict that it can be re-wired to like a different way of living?
           
          Simples.
           
          Okay, maybe it’s a bit facetious to assume the process will be simple; but if an individual puts even a quarter of the energy into learning how to reroute their circuitry that they invested in their youth trying to get laid/travel/”find themselves” then I’m sure they’ll be able to manage.
           
          So it’s really a question of how much the individual really wants to attain their goal.

        7. Jeremy

          I’m not saying it can’t be done.  Of course a person who is motivated can overcome the challenges I’ve mentioned.  My only point is that the challenges are there.  And I know you’ve acknowledged these challenges – I recall a conversation you and I had a while back where you discussed how marriage will be a whole re-wiring process for you compared to the way you’ve lived before.  Not everyone can accomplish the re-wiring – and you’ve got a head-start over most of them because at least you know that the re-wiring will be difficult rather than assuming it will be natural.

           

          Nassim Taleb, a billionaire who made his money in the stock market, discusses his career advice in the book Black Swan.  He writes that if he had to advise people on choosing a career, there is no question he’d recommend becoming a dentist.  Because close to 100% of dentists earn a comfortable-or-better living, whereas many stock traders and entrepreneurs go belly-up.  No dentist will ever make as much as Taleb has made, but statistically, on the whole, it’s the safer decision – the decision where statistically more people will end up with what they want.  Not everyone goes for safe, not everyone wants safe, but if you’re going off the stats, the best advice is clear, in Taleb’s opinion.  That is the point I’m trying to extrapolate here.

        8. Mrs Happy

          This line of argument assumes that the people who marry, always know they will want to marry.

          Jeremy, I suspect that when you were 12 you didn’t want to get married soon, and it was therefore not on your radar.  You likely had crushes on girls at primary school and through high school and not once dreamed of marrying the girls.

          For some people, that continues.  When I was 12, and 22, and 28, I didn’t want to get married soon, and it was therefore not on my radar.  I was happily coupled up and enjoying lovely relationships with boyfriends, and not once did I dream of marrying any one of them.

          Your argument assumes that because you started dating for marriage at 21 when I started at 32, you’ll be better at marriage (you probably are but that’s due to your personality so let’s leave that aside) than I will.  Whereas I think that during my teens and 20’s, I was dating to meet people, expand my social circles, or be in a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship, some of which were very long term, and there is nothing brain-wiring-circuitry detrimental with that.

          I think it’s more about attitude.  A person’s attitude and commitment to the idea of marriage, to living a married life.  It is for me, and that’s also what I observe in others around me.

        9. Jeremy

          I agree with you that attitude is a large part of future marital success, Mrs Happy.  But our wiring does present challenges notwithstanding.  It’s not just about our reasons for dating or the style of dating we did in our youth.  How many times have you written that you loved living alone?  That you loved having the freedom to up and fly to Italy if you were so inclined? That you loved falling in love?  You developed a taste for these things while delaying marriage – and has your developed taste for these things not presented any challenges for you in your married life? If only in the internal struggles in your mind?  Or am I mistaken there?

           

          You are more disciplined than most.  I’ve written to you before that your attitude toward marriage is fairly rare among women IME – to help you overcome what might otherwise be your inclinations.  You focus on outcomes (like me).  But most people don’t.  They focus on emotions.  That’s how they mess up.  If they lack the discipline to overcome their emotions, the best way to improve their outcomes is to stem the source of harmful emotions….which is often experiential.  Of course, that logic is circular….but still doesn’t mean it’s not good advice.

      2. 5.1.2
        jo

        Jeremy, it is interesting that you call it ‘unfortunate’ to see things as Gala does. Personally I think it is unfortunate that culture tells us in a million little ways that marriage and family are the only path to a meaningful life. some people are not cut out to be spouses or parents, and they know this, so they avoid it. They shouldn’t be criticized for it, because they are probably doing the right thing by everyone by being true to themselves. The traditional path is not for everyone.

    2. 5.2
      Gab

      Why on earth would marriage spell the end of fun? My ex encouraged my social life, even after we had children. Now I am a single 44 year old and we still have a very amicable relationship that allows both of us to pursue social lives including dating. I can go out sipping cocktails with the girls 3 nights a week but I don’t because once a week of evening socializing is more than enough for me. What I do yearn for is coming home to a partner to enjoy the rest of my nights with. A good relationship is worth more than 365 nights a week of cocktail sipping.

  6. 6
    Michelle

    Hmm, I don’t buy the efficacy of FWBs turning into a relationship. Usually people look for FWBs with someone they already don’t want to date to prevent getting attached. Then one side wants more than the other and the whole thing turns into a mess. Either that or both parties are equally disinterested in each other and things just stay FWB, or fizzle.

    1. 6.1
      sylvana

      @Michelle,

      well…technically speaking, there’s not all that much difference between FWB and dating someone. Except sex before commitment, maybe. A lot of FWBs actually do not sleep around.

      You’re thinking of a fuck buddy, who can be anything from a friend to someone you can’t stand.

  7. 7
    Jayla

    lol. It’s funny because amongst people i know, i see the opposite. I see a lot of young people marrying before 25 and 30. In fact i personally know 10 couples who got married before 25 and 30 yrs old. Granted, many are “christian” or grew up in that household and environment, so they marry to have guilt free sex. lol. Of course this is not a good idea, and i don’t condone it, but i see it happening more and more. To me, it seems like marriage amongst young people is what’s “trending” now. I pray that changes and they do wait, and make better decisions about their life partner’s, so that they have longer lasting marriages.   🙂

  8. 8
    Laura

    I think some women get rings and some women don’t. Most women and men don’t know what love is before they are 25 years old. Thanks to the media bombarding us that casual relationships last which they don’t or bad role models in public or private life. Being on the same page is key in my opinion. Most of my parents generation choose a different way. My dad met my mum, courted or dated her and then got engaged and then married.  A lot of men get away with their behaviour because the girl lets him.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *