A new report shows dramatic changes in the way Americans live, with nearly half of first births occurring out of wedlock and a tendency by couples to marry in their late rather than early 20’s.
In its latest report, the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia looks at why Americans are marrying later and what the consequences of that change – which has taken place over 40 years – might be.
Today, it says, women are 26.5 years old on average and men 28.7 years old when they tie the knot. That does not mean all women are putting off childbirth. By age 25, 44% have a baby, but only 38% have married.
That’s trouble, the report says, because children born outside of marriage are far more likely to suffer social, emotional and financial fallout associated with family instability and single parenthood. Children born to stable, married parents are more likely to graduate from high school and from college, and, in turn, more likely to marry and start their own families on a stable footing.
Later marriage might be a factor in the nation’s declining divorce rate, but the study notes unmarried men in their 20’s are more likely to report unhappiness, excessive drinking and depression compared to their married counterparts.
Americans of all classes are postponing marriage to their late 20s and 30s for two main reasons.
First, good jobs are hard to come by and require more training and education, so young adults are taking longer to finish school.
Second, they often see marriage as a “capstone” rather than a “cornerstone” – something they do after they have all their ducks in a row, rather than a foundation for launching into adulthood and parenthood.