Why you shouldn’t feel pressured to get married just because your friends are

I was at a party once when a good friend of mine (a 25 year old female) began to discuss how she felt pressured to find the right guy and get married.  After all, she said, so many of her friends were taking the leap, and here she was single.  This sentiment was then repeated by another friend (same age and gender), and then another.  At this point, I said something along the lines of: “That’s ridiculous.  You’re all wrong, here’s why.”  Half the people in the group laughed, a couple called me an asshole, and one said that I needed to start a blog with that title.  I guess you can figure out who I listened to.  Below is more or less what I said at that party (somewhat expanded, I’m not that much of a bore over drinks), but with a little more data to back it up.

The problem with this mentality is that it can act as an unneeded pressure to progress the “seriousness” of a relationship past where it should be.  A couple who rushes into marriage is more likely to uncover information about one another that they may like or dislike after they’ve already signed their binding contract.  This is an obvious point, but one that can  be quickly forgotten during the infatuation period (i.e., the “honeymoon” period of a relationship) that bends reality ever so slightly to cover our significant ones’ flaws (after all, love really is similar to a drug[1]).

The Data:
However, the main point that I made to my marriage-inclined friends was the difference in divorce rates based on the couples’ age when they get married.  The younger the female’s age at the time of first marriage the greater the likelihood that the marriage won’t make it in through the first ten years.  The following chart is from a CDC National Health and Vital Statistics report showing the probability that a first marriage is broken up within 10 years based on the women’s age at time of marriage[2].

 

Figure 1:

Admittedly, this data is a bit old.  Unfortunately I was not able to find a more recent snapshot of this statistic in particular.  However, it is an interesting way to present the data, as it takes a snapshot of the woman’s age at the time of marriage and measures how that correlates to the longevity of the marriage, as opposed to simply showing an annual divorce rate based on age (which would likely be more susceptible to being influenced by other variables).  The relationship is clear – a woman who marries later in her twenties has a much greater shot of not experiencing a divorce within ten years relative to a woman who marries earlier in her twenties.

This chart does fall short, however, in breaking out the probability of divorce for women married above 25 years of age into greater detail.  Since the friend at the party who brought up this discussion in the first place was 25, it would have been helpful to have this detail.  While I haven’t been able to find a similar measure of probability of divorce within 10 years based on age at marriage for women in their later 20’s, I was able to find a recent statistic on the annual rate of divorce for women, categorized by age through their 60’s[3].

Figure 2:

Chart 2

Chart shows divorces in last 12 months for 2009.  See footnote for details on calculation.

 This chart is more useful in the sense that it shows the annual divorce rate broken out by age for several more categories than the preceding chart.  Unfortunately, in another sense it is less useful as there are likely more confounding variables (i.e., potential causes for the trend that are not  “getting married at a younger age” that could instead explain the decline in rate amongst older women) in this type of a statistic that could explain why women get divorced less at later ages (i.e., the “happier” marriages are more likely the ones that last into a woman’s older age, making it less likely they will want a divorce; differing cultural traditions for older generations that may not look as favorably on divorce as an option; having had kids and staying in it at this point for them, etc).

Discussion
The correlation is clear: the older you are, the less likely you will get a divorce (Figure 2), and the older you are when you get married, the less likely you will get divorced within a ten year period (Figure 1).  What this says about the quality of a particular marriage, how happy or committed a couple is to each other, or any number of other qualitative factors is less clear.  However, if you assume that the process of divorce is traumatizing for both parties, especially if there is a child involved, it appears that one way to potentially minimize the chance of this unwelcome process is to wait a little bit longer before signing on the dotted line.

All this, of course, is not to say that if you find the perfect significant other at a younger age that you should not marry them  Rather, maybe it’s worth waiting a little while to feel the other person out in greater depth.  Maybe you’ll find something out that surprises you (could be good or bad).  If good, then it will be further evidence that you’re making the right decision to marry and know that you’re not acting from a drugged state of infatuation; if bad, then it could prevent you from having to endure what could potentially have been an unbearable situation altogether.  Regardless, it seems rash to let the momentum of friends’ early to mid 20’s marriages, which may have also been undertaken rashly, to encourage you to make the same decision.  If everyone else jumped off a bridge, etc etc.  Who knows, after all? Maybe many of your own close friends are rushing into it.  Details of friends’ personal lives are often more highly guarded even from close friends than the pride stemming from those friendships would care to acknowledge.

There is social pressure  for folks in their mid to late 20’s to “figure everything out,” settle down, and know what they’re doing for the rest of their life, and part of this “figuring it out,” for many, includes getting married.  Of course, the vision of your friends figuring it all out could just be an illusion, and they may have as little a clue as to what they’re doing as you do.  So why let a potential illusion encourage you into making what could potentially be a similarly rash decision?  It may bring about some momentary relief to see the marriage box get checked; but as the data shows, the younger the woman at marriage the greater the chance of divorce later on down the road.

Of course, this may not happen to you at all, as these numbers are just probabilities.  You may marry your high school sweetheart after graduation and be married and happy the rest of your life.  Or maybe you do end up getting divorced, but those years were valuable, informative, and special to you.  Or maybe getting married young and having a large family earlier on is a very important goal for you.  That’s fine, but the data is nonetheless helpful to know, as it may help remove some of the seemingly irrational societal pressure that encourages marriage, as it seems like we have enough rational societal pressure (in general) as it is.

Aside:
For an interesting read on how divorce is related to age at marriage, and some discussion on what the potential causes for this relation may be, check out Dalrock’s blogpost “Why a Woman’s Age at Time of Marriage Matters and what this tell us about the Apex Fallacy.”

Note – I originally found the sources for the two charts I used above on Dalrock’s site.  However, since figure 2 depends on data from two papers that do not exactly tie, I had to recalculate this chart (as opposed to finding the source image from the CDC and Census papers), and could not get it to match Dalrock’s equivalent figure.

 



[2] CDC Vital and Health Statistics, “Cohabitation, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the United States,” July 2002.  Series 23, No. 22.  http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_23/sr23_022.pdf


[3] In order to create this chart, I used the data from the 2009 spreadsheet from the US consensus with the data on US divorces in the last 12 months from Table 2 of this paper.  These numbers are not going to be 100% accurate as the sampling sizes in the spreadsheet data and the paper are slightly off.  If you’d like to check my mater, please feel free to refer to the excel here.

Comments

comments

  • Lissette Mona

    I just wanted to point out that a lack of comments doesn’t mean a lack of a good post. Sometimes you just hit the nail right on the head and all we can really say is “Preach is Xander!”

    Very informative, will likely reference you whenever I get into this debate with friends again. Support the wait!

  • Andrew

    I think the more interesting question is: At what age should you feel pressured to get married?

    • youreallwronghereswhy

      You’re assuming that there is an age at which one should feel pressured to get married. There may be, especially if someone considers it a life goal. And that may be a younger age if a person considers getting married younger to be a life goal.

      But I also have to imagine that there are plenty of people who, privately, wouldn’t mind 1) not getting married or 2) getting married in their late 30’s, and yet who publicly would admit to the same pressure at a younger age.

      • Andrew

        Sure, but you’d have to ask those (I assume we’re still talking about women) how many children they would like to have. Getting married in your late 30’s is fine and dandy, probably produces great “did they get divorced” outcomes, but if those same women desire multiple biological children born in wedlock (for which there is plenty of supporting evidence as to its “best child outcome” status) they have to deal with competing forces given their goals.

        • youreallwronghereswhy

          Absolutely – wanting to have kids, as a life goal, is a very reasonable “pressure” (if we’re continuing with this word) to search for a marriage earlier rather than later. But that has (or should have) nothing to do with pressure being derived from your friends’ marriages. And that was the entire point of the article – don’t rush because other people are rushing. That says nothing about personally accelerating the dating quest for yourself based on deeply held, family-related aspirations.

          If 10 of your closets friends get married at 20 because they all want to have kids, then 10 of your friends are likelier to get a divorce with a kid within a 10 year period than if they had waiting until they were 26. And even if they don’t, your friends’ readiness says nothing about your readiness (to Dee’s and Andrew Kropff’s points).

        • Lissette Mona

          Just curious here, but why are you assuming that we’re talking about women when discussing whether marriage and children are a life goal?

          • Dee Vee

            they’re assuming because 1) they’re men, and 2) women are pressured the most when it comes to marriage and children. society is constantly reminding women that only so much time is left to start a family and you should only start one if you have legally agreed to. men don’t have the same physical restraint to naturally having children and society doesn’t push them to get married before starting a family. a man can walk away from the mother of his children, and usually has since before recorded history. men can also have children late into their 90s if they live that long soundly. true, in some circles of society men are pressured to marry and start families but it’s for different reasons than it is for women. time isn’t on our side ergo we receive the most pressure.

          • youreallwronghereswhy

            No, I don’t think that’s the case. We were discussing women because 1) the person who brought up at the party was female (see beginning of article), which led me to 2) pull all the data related to women, not men, to respond to the resulting conversation up with as specific information as possible.

            Additionally, I believe Andrew was speaking about women in the context of pressure in your 30’s related to children because there is generally a lower age ceiling on when women can have children rather than men biologically. Because of this difference I would imagine that, like myself, he has female friends express those exact sentiments to him.

            To me, Andrew’s comment seemed more biologically related than sociologically so.

          • Andrew

            I really hope that being a man isn’t required to consider other reasons beyond “other people are pressuring me” for a woman to desire to get married sooner than later.

          • Andrew

            Well, the entire post above is about women being pressured to get married, and women are the sex with biological limitations when it comes to age and children (which is a significant factor for many women when it comes to marriage), so I wanted to make the point that there are valid age-related pressures other than “all my friends are doing it” when it comes to desiring to get married.

    • http://www.warewolfdigital.com/ Andrew Kropff

      You should feel pressured when all the pieces are in place; it has been talked about and agreed or alluded to by both partners, blessings have been given, and you can responsibly support each other. Whatever age that is changes for everyone, but that is the age to feel pressured.

    • Dee Vee

      you should never feel “pressured” into getting married. the real question should be: at what age should you feel ready to get married?

      • Andrew

        If you look at all the data, and say “I should get married by XX age to optimize my personal life outcome” – that is relevant pressure, no?

        • Dee Vee

          that is pressure, yes. but that’s not the point i was making. the age you feel as an individual that you are ready to get married is relative to who you are. you should never get married because you feel pressured. you should get married because you feel ready.

  • http://www.warewolfdigital.com/ Andrew Kropff

    “Regardless, it seems rash to let the momentum of friends’ early to mid
    20’s marriages, which may have also been undertaken rashly to encourage
    you to make the same decision.”

    It doesn’t help, i think, with social media. On Facebook and Twitter we are only ever exposed to the high-light reels of people’s lives. A good read for such topics is here: http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2013/08/19/213568763/researchers-facebook-makes-us-sadder-and-less-satisfied

    “That’s fine, but the data is nonetheless helpful to know, as it may help remove some of the seemingly irrational societal pressure that encourages marriage, as it seems like we have enough rational societal pressure (in general) as it is.”

    And herein is the real issue; rational vs irrational. Of all the “major” topics like politics, religion, and sport I think love is by far the most irrational. I recall when I first fell in love, I wanted to marry the girl within months. That was certainly irrational at the time, but chemically it felt extremely real and desirable. Five years later, we are engaged now and I know we made the right AND rational choice to wait. But if I talked to someone who hadn’t waited I feel like I couldn’t blame them because I can empathize with that passionate neurological reaction associated with the “honeymoon” stage of an early relationship. This may or may not apply here, but when it comes to love, biological drives, or social norms, might as well throw rationality out the airlock.