“So, why aren’t you married yet?” There is no phrase in the English language I hate more than that sentence.
There are generations that still believe a woman’s life is unfulfilled until she is someone’s ‘better half’, that a man hasn’t made something of himself until he has found an ‘honest’ woman to marry. All fables of a time when folks could believe they would work at the same place from graduation to retirement.
For women, there was a time when marriage signified security and stability. However that traditional idea of marriage evolved over the years as women excelled in higher education and gained more visibility in the workplace. Tie this in with an economy where employees change jobs, even careers, every few years or go back to school to gain further skills. With that much instability in the economy, it makes it difficult to plan the house with white picket fence and 2.5 kids.
Author Stephanie Coontz in her book Marriage: A History, pointed out that ‘for thousands of years, people had little choice about whether and whom to marry and almost no choice in whether or not to have children.’ We now live in the era of too many choices, which can be good or bad, making the idea of jumping into anything let alone a lifelong commitment hard to do without weighing one’s options.
In a Cosmopolitan magazine article titled How Marriage is Changing: Getting Married Later in Life, sociologist and Johns Hopkins University professor Andrew J. Cherlin pointed out that “a half century ago, if you went to college and weren’t engaged by the time you graduated, you got nervous….today, if my Hopkins undergraduates do get married while they’re in college, their parents get nervous.” It was simultaneous with my university commencement when my parents and their siblings kept asking, ‘so when’s the wedding?’, as though now that I’ve gotten school out of the way I should be ready to plan a life with someone.
A study by the National Marriage Project (what a name right?), called Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America, found that women earn more money if they wed later in life, 30 years old or older. “For college-educated women in their mid-30s, this premium amounts to $18,152 per year.” The study also found that ‘the divorce rate in the U.S. has gone down partly because couples who marry in their teens and early 20s are more likely to divorce than couples who marry later.”
The variables that made marriage an option for someone in their 20s 50 years ago, have completely changed for today’s single person. As opposed to marriage being a thing that one just does due to tradition, obligation, cultural norms, etc. societal evolution has made marriage more of a partnership of two individuals mutually agreeing to build a life together. And the stats stand to show this agreement has a lower divorce rate and higher income for women (bonus!).
Just to drive home how archaic some of the older notions were around marriage, there was a quote in a Popular Science Monthly magazine in 1905, which claimed that education gave women a “self-assertive, independent character” that made her “impossible to love, honor, and obey.” Obey has to my favourite word in that. Because the idea then was that a married woman was the property of her husband. Yet once access to education for women became equal to men, marriage no longer appeared as the only option for security.
Whenever it appears that I’m about to lose an argument with my parents about anything, but most often when it comes to my choice to marry later in life, I like to back up my points with research. Huffington Post shared findings from the National Bureau of Economic Research, that points out a few of the reasons Millennials (those of us that came of age around the year 2000) are getting married later; it can be attributed to ‘a decrease in “shotgun” weddings, an increase in education and more societal acceptance of being single at an older age.’ The last point doesn’t include my parents but pointing out to them that society has accepted it while they’re clinging to the dark ages, might just be in my favour.