We hear it all the time: Millennials (my generation) are getting married later in life, if they get married at all. The average age at which people first get married has increased by about 7 years since the 1950s. Or if that sounds like too long ago to compare: according to the U.S. Census, it increased by 2 years just between 2005 and 2013 (the most recent year they list numbers for). The average married woman was single until she was 27.4 years old, and the average married man didn’t tie the knot until he was 29.4.
People still want to get married, though: the percentage of high school seniors who say that marriage and family are “extremely important” has remained completely flat over the last four decades. So something’s amiss; something is delaying marriage or making it harder to obtain.
Why It Matters
Not everyone will get married. And if you don’t, that doesn’t mean you’re faulty or that God loves you any less. You may even feel called to singleness. But if you’re not called to singleness, it’s hard to make a biblical case for intentionally delaying marriage.
Marrying later makes it harder to stay pure (1 Corinthians 7:9), since marriage is God’s design for sex. It makes it more difficult to have and raise kids together (Genesis 9:7). It means you get to spend less time enjoying marriage together (Proverbs 5:18-19). And, for some people, it means they delay maturing and taking on responsibility (1 Corinthians 13:11).
Why People Wait to Get Married
There can be some good reasons why some people should wait to get married (or not get married at all). However, those reasons haven’t really changed over the years, so they aren’t the reason why people are getting married later today.
So what is causing people to wait? There are a number of possibilities:
They’re just “not ready.” This could be a good reason or a bad one. Certainly you should be mature enough first. But if it’s taking people today years longer to become mature, that’s not a good thing. Why aren’t you ready? And if you're not ready today, what are you doing to get ready? Will that just magically happen? One day you'll wake up and be ready for marriage? Doubt it. Work to become the type of man or woman who is ready.
They buy the “live together first” lie. This is the most likely cause; the rise of cohabitation corresponds nicely with the decline in marriage. If you’re a Christian, living together outside of marriage shouldn’t even be an option; it’s rebellion against your Lord. But even if you’re not a Christian, living together before marriage is a bad idea. It sets you up for failure, not success (and yes, that’s still true according to recent research). Living together isn’t a smart way to prepare for marriage; if you’re not ready for marriage, then you’re not ready to live together, either.
They’re not financially ready. This one doesn’t make any sense to me. Getting married, and combining two households into one, helps with finances. Statistically, married people (who stay married) end up much wealthier than if they’d stayed single. As a guy, I understand wanting to be able to provide for your wife; but, in another odd stat, married men make more than single men. (Something about taking responsibility, working smarter, and making wiser choices.) The only way in which not being financially ready makes sense to me is if you’re talking about not being able to pay for the kind of wedding you want—and people who focus on having a more expensive wedding are more likely to divorce later on. So just do a cheaper wedding, and focus on planning a great marriage instead.
They have unrealistic expectations. In a city with millions of people, you can’t find anyone who meets your standards? Then maybe your standards are too high. Unrealistic standards will cost you in two very expensive ways: 1) they will keep you single so that you miss out on years of marriage, and 2) they will cause you to marry for the wrong reasons and have your marriage fail for the same wrong reasons. Ask yourself this: “Who would God set me up with?” I'll give you a hint: the fact that she's “hot” is not high on His priority list.
They’re married to pornography. This one is hard to admit, but is sometimes true. Pornography is a trap that ruins marriage in more ways than one. You may not think you’re choosing porn over marriage, but the time you give to it is definitely not time you’re spending getting ready for marriage or building a relationship that could lead to marriage. And it’s a big source of the unrealistic expectations we just talked about, because porn is not real.
They want to “play the field” first. This is unwise and, like several items on the list, can be outright sin (depending on your definition of “play the field”). The motivation behind this is usually that you don’t want to miss out on anything by getting married young; you want to have fun before settling down. Here’s one problem with that: marriage is fun. It’s hard work, too, but it’s fun, and it’s a lot more fulfilling (and less hurtful, with less consequences) than serial dating.
They just don’t get asked. This is a consequence of all the reasons above. I know that a lot of single ladies are reading this and thinking: JP, I don’t want to wait to get married, but no one is asking me! Well, that’s why I’m writing this. Guys, step one to getting married: ask a good girl out.
If you’re waiting faithfully, or pursuing wisely, and you’re doing everything more or less right: don’t be discouraged. Stay faithful. None of this means that there’s anything wrong with marrying later or staying single, if it’s done for the right reasons. And God is in control. Which means there’s one more reason why some people wait to get married: because God has a plan for you. He’s up to something. I’ve had friends get married later in life than they might have originally planned, and seen it all suddenly make sense: that’s who they were waiting on. That’s why it didn’t work out sooner. So stay faithful, and trust in His timing.
(With help from Kevin McConaghy)