The Joy of Waiting: Delaying Marriage to Attain Personal and Financial Freedom
Fear of being a spinster has evolved into fear of being in an unhappy marriage. Marriage and motherhood, once the ultimate goals for a woman to achieve as soon as possible, is not the means to an end that it once was. The sociological understanding of marriage has been developing since the first couple wed. Even from the twentieth to the twenty-first century there has been huge development in marriage as an institution. Women have had opportunities to gain independence financially with the involvement of women in the workforce during both World Wars and the successive women's suffrage movement. The expansion of women's involvement outside of the home expanded into more women seeking higher education, and ultimately accepting more lucrative positions that had previously been reserved solely for men. Today, the American workplace is considerably more integrated than it was decades ago, and this equalizing of the genders (while still imperfect) has allowed for women to put saying "I do" on hold. In the past, marriage had been the logical and expected, if not required, step in a woman's life. Marriage provided financial and social stability, and allowed a woman to fulfill what was traditionally believed to be her highest calling: a wife and mother.
According to November 2017 US Census data, the average age of first marriage is 27.4 for women, and 29.5 for men. The average age for both sexes increases marginally every year. Just ten years ago, the average age for women was 25.6. Thirty years ago, in 1987, it was 23.6. In 1947, just after World War II, the age was 20.6 for women and 23.6 for men. Within the next decade, it is likely that the average age of first marriage for women in the United States could reach 30 years old.
Following the completion of traditional schooling at 18 years old, one's 20s used to be the years when an individual left their childhood home and became the head of their own household, but today this is often considered a decidedly old-fashioned perspective. The necessity of higher education to succeed in today's workforce as well as the inevitable accruing of often crippling student loans has made even the consideration of marriage as a 20-something nearly laughable to many singletons. Not only are young adults faced with seeking financial and professional security, they are also invigorated by the opportunities at hand to travel and discover the world and themselves. The divide that once was skewed towards early marriage has shifted as a result, although many young adults who view marriage as a priority for personal, often religious, reasons, succeed in incorporating the tradition into their lives.
Many women feel that they have not fully settled on who they are as an individual outside of a relationship, and choose to wait until they believe they have matured. Today, American society largely accepts this attitude. After attaining the necessary degrees, young adults are prioritizing their careers and establishing themselves as professionals. The length of time spent in school also tends to go beyone bachelor's degrees as more and more jobs require master's degrees. The independence young women have been able to attain has allowed for marriage to truly be a union for two individuals who love each other rather than a means of security.
A 2013 study by The National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, titled "Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America", researched the effects of the changing familial age patterns on partners and their children. The study concluded that college-educated women in particular stand to benefit from waiting to marry. They are able to gain greater financial security than women who do not attain college degrees. Additionally, their divorce rate is significantly lower. Couples who marry in their 30s have lower divorce rates in general compared to couples who marry in their 20s. These younger couples also tend to have higher rates of unhappiness, evident in increased alcoholism and depression. The study also points out the changing cultural view of marriage as a final step, or "capstone", instead of a basis for beginning adult life.
Marriage of course is not always a happy ending. Divorce rates peaked during the twentieth century, and families with split households seem to have become the new nuclear family. Understandably, children who grew up amid divorce are not necessarily eager to rush into marriage. The changing cultural norms have also contributed to the new confidence in waiting to marry. Rather than diving into a legal bond, many women are choosing to first try living with a partner. Cohabitation, once highly scandalized and still frequently looked down upon by older generations, is more often than not a necessary step in the dating process. This trial period of sorts allows couples to test whether or not their love can withstand the difficulties of actually coexisting within a shared space. Increasingly, couples wait until they have had children to tie the knot. Some adults have chosen to forego marriage altogether, and start a family without exchanging rings.
Women were once racked with worry about the impact their age could have on their unborn children. The health risks for both the mother and baby tend to increase as the mother's age increases, however alternative forms of pregnancy have alleviated many of these concerns. Women have options like adoption, in vitro fertilization, surrogacy, etc. The restructuring of the nuclear family has also opened up the possibility for women to maintain their professional career and have a child on their own.
With the plethora of options at hand for women, individual growth has come to the forefront. Women are interested in first creating a life that they are happy with before they bring in a husband and children. The desire for financial security has shifted to emotional security, allowing for equality within a couple. That is not to say that young marriage is dying out. Marriage is still very much at the heart of American culture, the paradigm is just shifting as a reflection of the progression of gender roles. The decision to marry is highly dependent on the individuals; regardless of age, income, or education level, nothing can truly predict the potential success of a marriage.