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If and When They First Marry, Adults in the U.S. Are Older than Ever Before

Census Bureau records dating back to 1890 show that in 1956, women got married for the first time at the youngest age on record, 20.1 years old. That’s a “median” age, which means that half of all women marrying for the first time were older and half were younger. Think about that – nearly half of all women marrying for the first time in 1956 were teenagers!

As is typical, men were at bit older when they married for the first time; in 1956, they were 22.5. Except for 1959, when men were also 22.5 when they first married, that was the youngest age on record for the men, too.

Now, both women and men are marrying for the first time at the oldest age on record. As of 2018, the median age for women was 27.8 — that’s 7.7 years older than they were in 1956. For men, it was very close to 30 – 29.8. That’s 7.3 years older than they were in 1956.

The age at which people first marry (among those who do marry) varies a lot by state. As of 2017, people waited longest to marry for the first time if they lived in Massachusetts – the median age of first marriage there was 30.3. That means that well over half of all adults in that state who were marrying for the first time were in their thirties or older. New York, at 30.2, and Connecticut, at 30.0, were close behind.

States in Which Newlyweds Are the Oldest

30.3 Massachusetts

30.2 New York

30.0 Connecticut

29.9 New Jersey

29.8 Rhode Island

29.6 California

29.5 Delaware, Florida, Maryland

29.4 Illinois

 

The very youngest brides and grooms are in Utah. Their median age is just 25.2. In only one other state, Idaho, are newlyweds younger than 26, and just barely (25.9).

States in Which Newlyweds are the Youngest

27.2 Nebraska

27.0 Kentucky, North Dakota

26.8 Kansas

26.7 South Dakota, Wyoming

26.5 Oklahoma

26.4 Arkansas

25.9 Idaho

25.2 Utah

 

Why Does It Matter If People No Longer Marry When They Are Young?

How might it matter if people marry when they are in their early to mid-twenties, instead of when they are around 30? I think it could make a profound difference. In those years when young adults are not yet married, they can, if they have the resources and opportunities to do so, pursue their educations or develop skills that might expand their job opportunities. The most fortunate among them can explore their passions and perhaps experience more personal growth as a result (as is true for people who stay single).

I think people who stay single longer also get better at mastering the tasks of everyday life (such as cooking and cleaning and taking care of things that need repair), especially if they live alone. They are also likely to develop their interpersonal skills. If they are not counting on a romantic partner to be their plus-one whenever they want to socialize, they learn how to make friends and keep them. They also learn how to enjoy solitude, if that doesn’t already come naturally.

As men and women stay single longer, both are likely to become less stereotyped in the domains that they master. Men who are living alone all through their twenties and beyond, for example, can’t depend on a woman to cook and clean for them or to arrange their social lives or remember relatives’ birthdays. Women can’t rely on a man to deal with the car and the yard. (Yes, those old-fashioned divisions of labor still happen, even in many contemporary marriages.)

All those skills serve people well while they are single. They will also come in handy for those who marry and then divorce or become widowed. They won’t need to figure out, for the first time, how to do the tasks their spouse covered if they already mastered them before they married. I think that’s huge. Dealing with the emotional implications of divorce or widowhood is daunting enough, without having to learn a whole new set of skills. But that’s just my guess. I’ll let you know if I find any new research that directly tests that idea.

If and When They First Marry, Adults in the U.S. Are Older than Ever Before


Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard; Academic Affiliate, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UC Santa Barbara), an expert on single life, is the author of several books, including "Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After" and "How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century." Her TEDx talk is "What no one ever told you about people who are single," https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyZysfafOAs. Dr. DePaulo has discussed singles and single life on radio and television, including NPR and CNN, and her work has been described in newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and magazines such as Time, Atlantic, the Week, More, the Nation, Business Week, AARP Magazine, and Newsweek. Dr. DePaulo is in her sixties. She has always been single and always will be. She is "single at heart" -- single is how she lives her best and most meaningful life. Visit her website at www.BellaDePaulo.com.


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APA Reference
DePaulo, B. (2019). If and When They First Marry, Adults in the U.S. Are Older than Ever Before. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 21, 2019, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/single-at-heart/2019/09/if-and-when-they-first-marry-adults-in-the-u-s-are-older-than-ever-before/

 

Last updated: 30 Aug 2019
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