March 23rd, 2013

Marriage trends: later

Ross Douthat describes what’s been happening to marriage lately (pun intended):

…[L]ate marriage is entangled with the story of rising out-of-wedlock births, thanks to what the authors [of this report] call “the great crossover” — the fact that the age of first marriage, which was once about a year earlier than the average age at which the first child was born, now lags the average age of first birth by about a year. Hence the report’s most attention-grabbing statistic: That 48 percent of overall first births, and 58 percent of first births to what the report calls “Middle Americans” — women with a high school diploma and maybe some college, but no 4-year degree — now take place outside of marriage, a trend whose negative consequences for children probably don’t need to be rehearsed here.

Douthat calls the statistic “attention-grabbing,” but it’s hardly surprising, especially considering the way western Europe (and particularly Scandinavia) has been going. In Scandinavia, not only are the majority of children born out of wedlock, but there seems to be no stigma at all when it happens. Marriage itself has become a sort of after-the-fact ceremony that certifies that the already-ongoing experiment in living together and having a family has become something that particular couple wants to declare permanent (or at least that they intend it to be permanent—or perhaps that they just want to have a big party).

Douthat points out that the study describes a situation in which delayed marriage works differently in regard to men and women:

Upper-class women reap a large wage premium from delaying marriage — a college-educated woman who marries in her 30s earns over $15,000 more annually than a woman who marries in her early 20s, and when you look at household income, the premium for marrying later rises to more than $20,000. Women without 4-year degrees also enjoy a wage premium when they delay marriage, albeit a smaller one (and a very small one when you look at household income). Men, meanwhile, reap a wage premium from marrying earlier, so late marriage tends to hurt their economic prospects: For men without a 4-year degree, the earlier the marriage, the higher their income, and even college-educated men earn more if they marry in their 20s than in their 30s.

Note that I wrote “the study describes a situation in which delayed marriage works differently” rather than “the study indicates delayed marriage causes.” Correlation alone is not causation, although it is often erroneously assumed to be. In the case of the above statistics, it’s not at all clear whether late marriage causes the financial differences or whether the financial differences reflect other differences that end up causing the late marriage (for example, personal instability), but my guess is that it’s a bit of both.

Societal changes such as feminism, the so-called sexual revolution, the almost-nonexistent stigma against cohabitation or bastardy, tough economic times, the prevalence of divorce, the welfare state, and probably fifty others I haven’t named have all combined to cause this state of affairs (double pun intended). And has the sum total of human happiness increased as a result? I don’t see that it has.

Here’s a set of curious charts that lists the age of first marriage around the world for both men and women. If you peruse them, you might be surprised (as I was) to see that the ages are fairly uniformly later than one might think, even in many less-developed countries. What’s up with Libya (approximately 32 and 29), for example? I’d guess it might have to do with lack of economic opportunities and/or assistance (from family and/or government) for young people (although that doesn’t seem to create the same barriers in Egypt, where both sexes get married at around 24).

Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, and Norway just might have the highest age of all at first marriage (35/32; 34/32; 35/32; 33/31). No surprise there; we already knew that. It’s interesting, however, that a highly developed country such as Israel clocks in at around 25 for both sexes; does the average come down because of the early age of marriage among the Orthodox, who represent about 25% of the population there (about 10% are ultra-Orthodox, the strictest group)?

These statistics have undergone an enormous change in my lifetime. I was married for the first time at 26, but among my friends that made me an outlier. Almost everyone I knew was married before me, actually long before me. In my case I was following a family tradition; my parents had gotten married at almost the same age as my husband and I, but they had been outliers too. My friends who were married in their late teens and very early twenties (sometimes before getting out of college, often immediately after) are not only all still married, but seem to have all pursued various jobs and careers with success and satisfaction, and have had families and raised (for the most part) children who are functioning very well as adults today. That’s mere anecdote, of course, rather than statistics. But it shows the extremity of the changes in a small amount of time.

22 Responses to “Marriage trends: later”

  1. ziontruth Says:

    “It’s interesting, however, that a highly developed country such as Israel clocks in at around 25 for both sexes; does the average come down because of the early age of marriage among the Orthodox,…”

    Yep. The average age of marriage among the Centrist Orthodox is 24, the Ultra-Orthodox 19, the secular Jews 30. So 25 and less is the average when all groups are taken into consideration, with that “and less” getting more pronounced as the % of religious grows. That’s the stuff demographic changes are made of.

  2. George Pal Says:

    “The core message…is that the wealth of nations depends in no small part on the health of the family.”
    Professor Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project

    There is a threshold at which X number of correlations attain the status of causation. We have breached it. Marriage is as kaput as the globe is broke.

  3. G Joubert Says:

    It seems like the venerable old institution of marriage (and family, derivatively) was one of the first and biggest victims of the social changes wrought by the sixties zeitgeist.

    But maybe, just maybe, after all the shakeout is done –and it’s not yet done– marriage will reemerge stronger than ever.

  4. neo-neocon Says:

    ziontruth: yes, those trends make me wonder about something I’ve thought about before, which is that in countries with a sizable orthodox religious minority, that particular demographic will always grow faster than the rest of the population because of a higher birthrate (at least in modern times).

    I think most orthodox religions are well aware of that, too.

  5. T Says:

    I find it interesting that, in the siixties and seventies, marriage was decried by many as nothing but a worthless piece of paper. Yet, today, the gay community claims a right to obtain that worthless piece of paper.

    As for bastardy, the problem I’ve always had with its former stigma is that it was visited on the innocent child rather than exclusively on the parents where the stigma belonged.

  6. neo-neocon Says:

    T: yes, I have plenty of problems with the old bastardy stigma. However, it tended to work as a deterrent, didn’t it–now that it’s been removed that certainly has become more and more clear.

  7. J.J. formerly Jimmy J. Says:

    neo said, “And has the sum total of human happiness increased as a result? I don’t see that it has.”

    For the most part I would agree. However, when looked at from the standpoint of a young man (18-35), the present arrangements offer an opportunity for a lot of uncommitted sex. When I was that age, I would have thought it was fanatastic.

    That said, there comes a time in even the most immature male, when he begins to ask, “What’s it all about Alfie?” Or the sex becomes repetitive and with lttle satisfaction. Or you get tired of being on the prowl for hookups. Or you just want to settle down.

    Looking back on 57 years of marriage (I was married at 23 and was also an outlier among my contemporaries) all I can say is that it is something you have to work at, but the rewards are great. At this stage, it’s near Heaven to have someone you can feel so comfortable with. Someone who accepts you with all your flaws. Someone who knows your weaknesses and failures but still loves you. Whose laughter is like music to your ears and lights up your heart. Someone who is a friend of the very best kind. Someone that you can discuss and debate literally everything with.

    If only the young could look into the far future and see what awaits, more would opt for marriage, and be willing to work at it, rather than the expediency of hooking up, living together, or raising fatherless children.

  8. Anne Says:

    Despite their reputation as ultra-advanced socialist paradises, the Scandinavian countries are actually soulless backwaters crammed full of unhappy, messed up people. I’m really not surprised at their new, pitiful version of marriage. All the “free” healthcare and childcare in the world can’t buy you a happy, stable family.

  9. neo-neocon Says:

    Anne: even before these new marriage trends, I’ve thought of Sweden as an unhappy place.

    Ingmar Bergman, anyone?

  10. kolnai Says:

    I was an anomaly among people I knew – I first got married when I was 24. Unfortunately, I also got divorced when I was 25 (or rather, I was divorced).

    The astounding thing to me was how trivial the divorce was. I don’t want to get too personal here, but let’s just say the cause amounted to “I made a mistake; I’m 25 and I don’t want to be married; I want more time to explore options and be free.” There weren’t any particularly noteworthy problems, no infidelity, none of that. It was a whim.

    Furthermore, since the marriage was in NY and the divorce occurred before there was no fault divorce there (I think there is now, right?), she insisted that I say I “abandoned” her. But she abandoned me. That tied up the proceedings for about a year. Thankfully I was well below the poverty line and had no assets, and there were no children, so I didn’t have to deal with that mess.

    Anyway, all of my friends waited; pretty much every single one of them got married in the past few years, making the average age about 31 or 32. Good marriages too. It’s my impression that people just are not ready to “settle down” until they hit, at least, their early 30’s. It’s the ideology of the times, it’s our self-understanding.

    There was an article in some paper yesterday by a NY comedienne who said she “slept her way to monogamy” – had sex with anything she could (40 guys, she claimed), and then found a good one when she hit a ripe age and settled down. That’s pretty much the Platonic Idea of a well-ordered life today: late teens and twenties are for “exploring, experimenting;” early 30’s are about collating the data, gathering the lessons from experience, and realizing that the 40’s are coming and we better get serious before we’re… ugly; and then marriage and an effort to be more traditional thereafter.

    Something like that. I would guess there’s a Charles Murray-type effect here. The upper classes and elites basically can make this work, because they are insulated, often enough, from the consequences of their rowdy and stupid behavior when young. The lower classes and non-elites suffer the full impact of those consequences.

    The irony of being against “traditional values,” as Murray has (more or less) come to understand, is that it dovetails with being against the uplifting of the poor. Rules and customs promoting the ordering of liberty and putting a lasso on the whims of the will are there, in part, to ensure that the disastrous consequences the poor must suffer from one unfortunate or bad decision come to fruition less frequently. The rich can afford to wait until they have their “come to Jesus” moment.

    Traditional values – i.e., an emphasis on Aristotelian virtues and the Ten Commandments – are the only compass and anchor, or the only north star, most of us have to guide us in a free society. Destroy and discredit them, and we are groping in the dark, with – alas – only the state to guide us, filling in for our missing sense of the requirements of human flourishing.

  11. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Is there an economic advantage to a subculture which demonstrates birthrates both high and legitimate vis-a-vis the rest of the population?
    After the Restoration and the Regency, a restricted, no-fun culture (“methody”,aka Methodist religion), and “victorian” cultures were widely represented in the up and coming economic winners.
    Mormons aren’t doing badly.

  12. expat Says:

    Do you also have to factor in the number of people going to grad school today? With men and women having to move where they are admitted and then perhaps move again for postdocs, I suspect that lots of people don’t feel ready for commitment until they get some geographic stability.

  13. Ann Says:

    Anne said…
    Despite their reputation as ultra-advanced socialist paradises, the Scandinavian countries are actually soulless backwaters crammed full of unhappy, messed up people.

    But it’s made them God’s gift to publishing houses. Have you noticed the huge Nordic noir boom?

  14. kolnai Says:

    expat –

    That is definitely a factor, as I can attest. When I got married it was after moving to NYC to get a Master’s Degree, and I had already lived with my girlfriend in Florida, Arizona, and France over the previous six years. We had to spend a lot of time apart. It was a brutal experience.

    Perhaps we can add to grad school simply the increasingly temporary nature of jobs in general, meaning that people just can’t or at any rate don’t get started on a “career” in one place until later. Until then, one has to assume that one will be rootless.

    Even today, coming back to the topic of grad school, my attempting to find stability and settle down with a wife and have some children is difficult, not just because I have no job stability, but because even if I could be sure of finding employment in academia, it would be a series of adjunct and one-year positions, or, if I’m lucky, postdocs, that would leave me and my (hypothetical) wife as rootless and wandering as I’d been in grad school. The prospect doesn’t fill me with much joy; it fills women hoping to settle down and raise a family with even less.

    I think you raise a good point, in any case. Reflecting on my own case, I definitely did not choose to remain single until today (I’m 32). It was just well-nigh impossible for the stars to align such that I could settle down. I made a go at it eight years ago, but then the divorce dragon spewed his fire all over me.

    “Rootlessness” is perhaps the watchword. The destruction of traditional values is a factor, but even people like myself who do their damnedest to live responsibly and, dare I say, virtuously, can’t seem to find the conditions of stability until at least our early 30’s.

  15. neo-neocon Says:

    kolnai: yes, I always thought it odd the New York, of all places, clung (bitterly?) to fault divorce while other states embraced (lovingly?) no fault divorce. You might be interested in reading this old post of mine on the way it used to be in Massachusetts.

    And yesterday I had read that article in the NY Post by Ophira Eisenberg. I found it to be one of the saddest things I’ve ever read (I was going to write a post about it but it was just too much of a downer). The sex she was having (voluntarily, I might add) before she met her husband-to-be was about as empty, meaningless, unpleasant-sounding, and compulsive as one could imagine voluntary sex to ever be, and she seemed completely clueless as to what she was doing and why, and deeply divorced from her own feelings. I hope that she’s not typical of the mindset out there.

    I was also very puzzled by the fact that she mentioned having slept with 40 men and described at as having had sex with almost every man she encountered, and this occurred between the ages of 15 and 40. So 40 men would seem like an awfully low number, considering; I would have thought it would be in the hundreds. Perhaps she lost count. Or perhaps she didn’t get out much. Or perhaps she was more discriminating than she let on.

  16. Jim Nicholas Says:


    When I embarked on marriage 61 years ago, at age 22, I had no idea how hard it would be, or how rewarding. You describe my own experience poetically and truly.

    I don’t presume to claim that my path is the only right one; I do hope that others find equal happiness at the end of the paths they have taken.

  17. Richard Aubrey Says:

    The blog “Hooking Up Smart” takes a reasoned view of relationships, talking about the reasons for and now to achieve either long term relationships or marriage, and, for women, how to avoid being played.

  18. artfldgr Says:

    Note that I wrote “the study describes a situation in which delayed marriage works differently” rather than “the study indicates delayed marriage causes.” Correlation alone is not causation, although it is often erroneously assumed to be.

    what a tool…

    so you dont get the game that when its bad, its someone elses thing / and when its good, they take credit?

    Eve ate of the tree of what? so it takes a real smart person to consistently invent things that make the other persons actions ok. why? because nice people make serial killers nice to them as a process…

    so the whole point here is to somehow make their bs and lies and all that real and sound good. its the process by which an academically trained person learns to insert their head up their asses.

    why don’t i give you a more blatant example?
    because if you cant use history to negate the lie of natural outcomes today which is what they have been pushing… then we are DOOMED by women… (given voting lets us know who is it that went their own way on this against their own)

    “hitler joins gun debate: but history is in question”

    when i first read this, it came from MyWay

    Hitler Joins Gun Debate, but History Is in Dispute – ABC News

    personally, us guys dont like such tools, as they are used by the other side, and spend all their time pretending theya re not and rationalizing.

    which is the point…
    so much rationalizing and musing to just avoid saying, they are screwing with you, its bad, and we all should align to stop it.
    [edited for length]

  19. artfldgr Says:

    Hitler Joins Gun Debate, but History Is in Dispute
    The perfect example of the process your hip deep in and so cant navigate as you do not assign blame. EVEN WHEN ALL YOUR EXAMPLES ARE POINTING TO IT.
    To use an extreme timely example: it’s a sarcastic example, so don’t get huffy as you’re the only object that can be referred to as the default… we don’t have another default or subject as its your article we comment on, and we need a entity to talk to to make the speech of the examples work. Otherwise, we do the feminist thing in which we worry more about the offense of the words, than the substance or point we are trying to teach.
    The feminists derail things by playing games as to who the subject is, who the object is, were the right terms used, and so on… the POINT of this exercise, being to train their victims to not be able to communicate unless the other person gets all these points right. Their ego, and indignancies get in the way of the message. And they won’t listen to a message or example, if you don’t turn that key right. However, to turn that key is to negate the point for which the key is turned.
    In your world, Charles Manson is innocent, as he didn’t do anything but talk to people who then went out and acted…. so he should not be in jail for conspiracy, right? Feminists only talked, they never held a gun to the heads of those that helped them… they even offered lots of sex and things to those that follow them too. And like Charlie, they offered a new world, a new vision, and a place where they could go and have fun fun fun. Charlie advised them, they acted, the outcomes were horrors… but Charlie was alone… he didn’t have the whole of the sister hood behind h im. He LIKE THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND WAS TRYING TO START THE RACE GENDER WAR 30 YEARS EARLY!! (Read helter skelter)
    Funny thing is that this puts feminists and Charlie into the same camp with the LID, SDS, weatherman, BLS and the whole fo the left!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    So they are just like charles manson,… they even love them just as “the family” loved Charlie!
    Now, we all know that neo does NOT side with Charlie
    And Neo has said she doesn’t side with feminism
    But yet, the habit unexamined, does not die. nor does stoping someone else from pointing it out, make it go away
    Now why can’t you use the same logic to put the responsibility on the women who did the SAME THING? And who, by their action, didn’t cause one baby of Sharon Tates to die with a fork in it… it caused 50,000,000 babies to be eradicated. It caused millions more not to be born, and on and on in misery? Yet. The fruedian slip is there… they are victims too, so we cant
    It took me years to get an academic to realize how muych they were supporting these people!!
    [edited for length]

  20. artfldgr Says:

    But the history of civilian gun ownership under the Nazis, scholars say, is far more complicated than the rhetoric indicates.
    After World War I, Germany signed a peace treaty requiring dismantling of much of its army and limiting weapons import and export. But many of the 1 million soldiers returning home joined armed militias, including a Nazi Party force that saw Communists as the leading threat.
    “Technically, they (the militias) were illegal and the guns were illegal, but a lot of government officials didn’t care about right-wingers with guns taking on Communists,” said David Redles, co-author of “Hitler and Nazi Germany: A History,” a popular college text.
    By 1928, however, officials decided they had to get a handle on the militias and their weapons and passed a law requiring registration of all guns, said Redles, who teaches at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland.

    Wait a second… read that again before you read this.
    The story they tell is that the world war one troops were returning to an already nazi Germany?
    World war I ended November 11 1918. / Hitler wasn’t in power until when? 1933… he had not gotten full control till later… / extermination of the jews came later…
    By erasing the years between 1918 and 1933, they effectively make it look like hitler was trying to get rid of the militias that formed how many years earler?
    This is farce… completely untrue… its point is to make the history for the left seem like it’s the right that has it wrong (when there is only left, and not left… )
    Not only did they erase about 20 years, but they also erased that stalin and hitler were of one mind!!!
    Now, they are going to lead you into the idea that it was Weimar that did it all, but they wont let you get that even if Weimar did that, the lists were used to do something else, and todays gun law makers are not making ANY provisions for those lists to be destroyed in an event of a change in government or marshal law!!!!!!!!!!
    But wait.. it gets more interesting… as the second generation of Zinn writers talk.

    Soon after Hitler was named chancellor in 1933, he used the arson of the Reichstag as an excuse to push through a decree allowing for the arrest of many Communists and the suspension of civil rights including protections from search and seizure. But as the Nazis increasingly targeted Jews and others they considered enemies, they moved in 1938 to loosen gun statutes for the loyal majority, said Bernard Harcourt, a University of Chicago professor of law and political science who has studied gun regulations under Hitler.

    So what they are saying is that hitler made history, and didn’t let a manufactured crisis go to waste
    Now… reading Cuomo and others who say they were waiting for a newtown event to take advantage of, puts them in whose camp or not letting a crisis go to waste? [which the fear is that they will use a crisis to act again later when the names are collected. What assurances are they giving that the socialists of yesterday, are not the socialists today despite camps, one party, despotism, control to the point of salt and sodas, gun registrations, and more!]
    [edited for length]

  21. neo-neocon Says:

    artfldgr: once again, you misunderstand me.

    Once again, I have no idea why you are doing this. But once again, because I don’t go into the fact that scientific data is often manipulated for political purposes (including by the researchers, as well as by others)—something I’ve discussed many times here—does not mean that I (or many other commenters here) am unaware of this fact. I see no reason to re-invent the wheel every time I post.

    I point out that correlation is not causation. Any scientist should know that. If scientists try to make people think it is, they are either poor scientists or have a political agenda, or both. Sometimes the problem is within the research itself, but sometimes it arises with the journalists or pundits or politicians who write about and/or use the research for their own purposes, and sometimes it is with all of the above. It happens all the time, and very often from the left.

    I know that your Aspberger’s makes it hard for you to perceive communication that is not absolutely explicit. But your misunderstandings are becoming more frequent, and always in the same direction—which is to assume ignorance and naivete on my part and on the part of other commenters here.

    One last thing: why do you think I listed feminism first on that list? It is not the only influence, but it is a huge influence, a big part of the whole which is the agenda of the left. That is especially true of those feminists with an anti-family anti-marriage anti-male agenda.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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