When to Get Married? Breathing New Life Into the Old Debate


The past week has been a big one for thinking and talking about marriage. At the same time as the nation has been gripped in the same-sex marriage debate, another conversation has been playing out on the sidelines–not about who people should marry, but when.

The chatter started at the end of last week, when Princeton alumna Susan Patton wrote an open letter to The Daily Princetonian urging female students to find a husband on campus before graduating. She wanted to tell “the daughters I never had” what she wished she could have said: “Forget about having it all, or not having it all, leaning in or leaning out,” she wrote, “Here’s what nobody is telling you: Find a husband on campus before you graduate.” It wasn’t surprising that Patton’s “excruciatingly retro understanding of relationships,” as Maureen O’Connor put it in The Cut, was met with a firestorm of criticism. The Daily Princetonian has since removed the letter from its website.

It was surprising, then, on Monday when Julia Shaw wrote a piece for Slate titled, “I got married at 23. What are the rest of you waiting for?” Then came the rebuttal on Tuesday when Amanda Marcotte, also at Slate, pushed back with an argument against marrying young. “Watching conservatives desperately try to bully women into younger marriage with a couple of promises and a whole lot of threats is highly entertaining,” she wrote, “but clearly not persuasive.” Drawing on data, she noted that divorce rates are lower for women who marry later, and, on average, they also earn more than those who opt to tie the knot young.

But do the numbers really pan out? Dylan Matthews asked that question this morning at The Washington Post and looked to the recent study to which Marcotte refers, “Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America,” and other books and scholarly papers.

According to “Knot Yet,” the effects of marriage age on wages for women decline as they get older. Getting married at 25 rather than 19 makes a big difference. But between 25 and 30, not as much.

However, there’s something else that the debate seems to be missing. As a new report released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows, more people are putting off marriage either because they cannot afford it or because it’s too financially risky. Women who have not earned a high school diploma are less likely to marry within three years, researchers stated, compared to peers with more education.