20 is much too young to be engaged… Oh, you’re 30, and you’re not married yet? Whatever age we tie the knot, people are going to have an opinion. But what do the statistics say?
Research has generally told us that the older, the better (younger couples lack the maturity), and that your thirties are as good a time as any. But according to research collected in 2006-2010 (as analysed by Nicholas Wolfinger), these days the odds of divorce increase by 5% per year for each year after age 32 – across a variety of demographic and social differences. So what’s changed?
Wolfinger suggests a few potential reasons – that the experience of staying unmarried past 30, with all its probable relationship history, could work to make someone less fit for or less desiring of marriage. Or perhaps the pool of people left to marry at this age does not represent the cream of the crop.
I’m not sure though – because wouldn’t these factors have been at play 20 years ago, when the stats showed no difference for people getting married that late? My first inclination would be to think that the thirty-somethings of this generation, more often than not, are perhaps just as immature as today’s teens when it comes to understanding what marriage is and what is involved.
One of my favourite Ted Talks is called “Why 30 is Not the New 20,” by clinical psychologist Meg Jay. The main gist is that contrary to popular belief today, the twenties is not a decade to throw away – but rather a formative time which is crucial in the preparation for all those “grown-up things” like marriage, career and children. Maybe if more twenty-somethings realised this, they’d be more open to and ready for marriage when it does happen. Because if you’ve spent a lifetime not caring for the future, it’s hard to switch your brain into anything different – and different is what’s needed to be ready for marriage.
Perhaps it is the selfishness of our culture that plays into it all as well (doesn’t so much come back down to that?). By the time someone reaches 30, being self-centred is a trait that’s hard to budge – and a marriage that works is all about self-giving. Not to mention that compromise and changing your habits gets harder as the years go by and you get stuck in your ways.
There are other potential reasons to support the research. Maybe people who get married in their late thirties come up against a little more hardship, for example the struggle to have kids (we all know it gets harder with age) or sickness. Maybe, in a rush to be wedded, they settle for a partner who wasn’t the best match for them. Or possibly both partners are quite advanced in their careers by this stage, making it harder to leave time to nurture the relationship.
None of this is to say that I’m discouraging marriage once you’ve reached 32 – not at all! Every situation is different and I know many a happy marriage that was entered into during later years. But there perhaps are factors that play into the statistics. What do you think? Is there such thing as an ideal age to get married?