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BYU study shows young adults, parents differ on best age to marry

Research shows that young adults want to get married earlier than their parents want them to get married.
Research shows that young adults want to get married earlier than their parents want them to get married.
Jaren Wilkey, BYU

PROVO — While young adults and parents differ on the right age to marry, their views may surprise some. Contrary to the notion that young adults aren't interested in marriage, it is typically parents who support holding off, according to research from Brigham Young University.

A national study on five college campuses found that students believe 25 is a good age to get married, while their parents want them to hold off a bit, said Brian Willoughby, lead author of the study and an assistant professor in BYU's School of Family Life.

What they found is "the opposite of the stereotype," Willoughby said.

A release that accompanied the study, published in The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, noted a recent exchange between pop singer Justin Bieber and Oprah Winfrey. Bieber told Winfrey he'd like to marry before he's 25; she advised him to wait a bit longer.

That exchange mirrored the difference in thinking found in the study. The researchers noted a shift in what parents think their children need to be ready for marriage. The criteria seem to embrace the ability to support a family, have good communications skills and more.

"There is a general notion that there's decreasing interest in marriage, particularly among those who are younger," Willoughby told the Deseret News. "And how people are thinking about it is changing. ... But the continued desire to get married hasn't changed much."

Not only did parents want their children to wait longer to get married, but they placed lower emphasis on marriage as a life goal.

Moms are especially concerned that their children wait a bit before getting married. "Moms are holding very high standards for marriage for their kids: Get the finances in order, know how to communicate, graduate from college, have some relationship experience," Willoughby said.

Indeed, numerous studies have documented the increase in the age at which adults are marrying. The U.S. Census Bureau last year said the average age is 27. Women tend to be younger than men on average, but the age is creeping up for both.

Usually, when the age of marriage is discussed, the attention is on the young adults and why they're delaying. The BYU researchers noted that parents are often left out of the discussion, but they play a big part in what's happening.

"A lot of it is coming back to the parents," said Willoughby. "They have a strong influence."

The researchers don't take a position on whether delaying marriage is good or bad. But since parents have an influence on it, he said, they should be part of the discussion and the research.

Willoughby and his colleagues got interested in the topic because of anecdotes they were hearing in the classroom — tales of young adults being pressured by their parents to wait a while before embarking on marriage. The researchers were already involved in a national project looking at young adults and their parents to see key differences and similarities in how they viewed different issues and interact, so they looked at this issue, as well.

They gathered information from 536 college students and 446 of their mothers and 360 of their fathers. Their findings were consistent across gender, with both moms and dads wanting their children to put off marriage a bit longer. BYU is not one of the campuses included in the study, in part because it could have skewed the results. Willoughby said Mormons tend to marry about two years younger than their peers nationally, so they are delaying marriage a bit, as well, compared to the past. A release from BYU said one-fourth of students at the university are married.

Co-authors are Chad Olsen, a graduate student at BYU, and professors Jason Carroll, Larry Nelson and Rick Miller.

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