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).

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.

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.