Marrying young isn’t for everyone, but there are good reasons it should be considered.
How controversial is the idea of marrying young? Just ask Julia Shaw. When her essay on early marriage, “Marry Young: I got married at 23. What are the rest of you waiting for?” appeared at Slate April 1, not only did it provoke a number of angry, personal comments, but one reader even tracked down Shaw’s work number to call and yell at her.
The general thought in society today is that marriage should be delayed to allow for greater maturity and until the parties are “established.” Some argue, however, that there are compelling reasons to reconsider young marriage, including biological reasons. But for young marriage to be successful, other things about the way marriage is prepared for, viewed, and treated by society at large must also be revisited.
Shaw, who did not write the Slate article’s headline or subhead, said she was shocked by the volume and intensity of the reaction to the piece. There has also been a lot of positive responses to the story, she said, from readers who found the story thought-provoking as well as from other young marrieds who said they could relate to what Shaw had to say.
Shaw wrote the essay to encourage readers to take a fresh look at young marriage. “To be sure, marrying right is more important than marrying young,” said Shaw, research associate and program manager for the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics at the Heritage Foundation. “I’m not advocating that you should marry at some arbitrary age: in fact, I say that I’m against artificial timelines. But the problem I see nowadays—at least in my peer group—is not too many 19 year-olds marrying. The problem…is people [are] arbitrarily delaying marriage because they haven’t met certain personal and professional milestones—and that’s not a good reason.”
There can be no doubt that greater maturity and being “established” make a difference in terms of aiding successful marriage. The average age for first-time marriage is at an all-time high—27 for women and 29 for men—and is widely credited with lowering divorce rates.
“I think there is a case to be made for 20-something marriage,” said Dr. W. Bradford Wilcox, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Virginia and director of the National Marriage Project . “There is a strong body of evidence that those who marry in their teens are much more likely to get divorced than anybody else.” Wilcox stressed that the research on age and marriage is suggestive, not definitive.
However, there is reason to think that it is not the age of marriage that is key, but rather pushing against the current trend of adolescence continuing into the late 20s, while fostering greater support from larger family and community.
Father Michael Orsi, former director of the Office of Family Life for the Diocese of Camden, NJ, said he believes 18-26 is a good age range for marriage, with the male ideally being at the higher end of the age range. According to Orsi, to delay marriage is to frustrate nature. “Your body is telling you at a certain age that you are ready for a relationship with the opposite sex,” he said in an interview with Catholic World Report.
Along these lines, there are also health and practical matters to consider. The biological clock is ticking for women and men alike, as “men and women who wait are more likely to have kids who have disabilities or some other type of challenge,” said Wilcox. “There are links between men’s age and autism in the child.” As a result of men and women marrying later, some of them have had to enlist medical or technological help in order to achieve pregnancy, with sometimes dubious results.
Christians and social scientists aren’t the only ones starting to question the status quo. In an article last year in The New Republic, science editor Judith Shulevitz described fertility treatments she underwent in her late 30s. She eventually gave birth to a child with developmental delays and, during visits to therapists, noticed that the majority of the other mothers there were also older. After doing some research, she concluded that manipulating biology so older parents can have children will ultimately upend American society—“For we are bringing fewer children into the world and producing a generation that will be subtly different—‘phenotypically and biochemically different,’ as one study I read put it—from previous generations.”
Then there are the social consequences. Delaying marriage can also lead young people, who are at the height of their fertility, into a lifestyle that could hamstring future relational happiness. “You may start cohabitating, and then no relationship will be important or sacred to you,” said Orsi, who added that “you may also become set in your ways.”
Some parents cohabitated themselves, so they are unwilling to hold their children to a moral standard they couldn’t achieve themselves, said Orsi, who served on the Marriage Tribunal in his diocese….
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