Does it seem like a lot of people are taking longer and longer to get married – if they marry at all? That’s not just your impression. It really is happening.
The most recent data available in the U.S., for 2015, indicates that the median age of first marriage for men, among those who do marry, is just about 30 (to be exact, 29.7). That means that half of the men in America who marry for the first time are older than 30. Women marry for the first time at around age 28 (to be exact, 27.8).
In records dating back to 1890, the youngest age at which Americans first married was in 1956. Then, the median age at which men first married was 22.5; for women, it was a very young 20.1. That means that in 1956, half of all women who married for the first time were younger than 20.
On the average, men are older than women when they first get married, but the age gap is decreasing. In 1956, for example, men were 2.4 years older than the women. In 2015, they were only 1.9 years older.
In some other countries, people wait even longer to get married than they do in the U.S. At Priceonomics, Alex Mayyasi compiled data from the United Nations to show the age at which people first get married in the 20 most populous countries (see below). The ages are averages for the men and women.
As you can see, people in Germany, Brazil, and Japan wait longer to get married than Americans do. If other, more sparsely populated countries were included, too, other nations would also rank above the U.S. in the age at which people first marry. Statistics from 2013, for example, show that men do not marry until at least age 34 in Sweden (35.7), Denmark and Spain (34.4), and Italy (34.0).
Age at which People First Get Married in the 20 Most Populous Countries (from Priceonomics)
23.4 DR Congo
Many explanations have been offered for why the age at which people first marry is heading steadily upward in so many places. They include, for example, globalization and diminishing job prospects, economics and income inequality, and the changing roles of men and women. There is something to each of these proposed factors. More interesting, I think, are two other big-picture perspectives. First, marriage simply does not matter in the big, important ways that it used to. For example, most women no longer need to marry in order to be economically secure. Second, it is more possible than ever before to live single lives that are full, meaningful, purposeful, and joyful. People who are single at heart are embracing their single lives. Even single people who would prefer not to be single seem to have a different attitude toward their single years. Many are getting the most out of them, rather than just marking time until they find The One. With more opportunities to live fulfilling lives outside of marriage, there just isn’t the rush there once was. Maybe that also means that there is less “settling” among those who do want to marry.