Are young married people a “vanishing breed”? Some new data reported on by The Hill shows people are delaying marriage until later in life.

There are a number of reasons why younger generations delay marriage — some are economic and some have to do with what these generations prioritize.

Here’s a look at when people are getting married, why the age of married people is increasing and the potential impacts of this societal trend.

Perspective: The surprising case for marrying young

What age do most people get married now?

The average age of a groom is 30 years old, while the average age of a bride is 28 years old, according to the latest U.S. Census data. The Hill produced a graph showing the average age at which men and women get married, from 1950 to present day.

In 1950, the average age of married young people was in their early 20s. After 2000, the average age increased to above 25 and has steadily increased since — the exception being men marry slightly younger now than they did in 2020.

Not only are people delaying marriage, fewer people overall are marrying. According to The Hill, “In the prime adult years, ages 25 to 54, the share of married Americans has dwindled from more than two-thirds in 1990 to barely half today. Roughly 1 adult in 10 cohabits with a partner. Everyone else, in romantic terms, lives alone.”

Even though marriage overall is on the decline, midlife marriage also may be becoming slightly more popular. The Wall Street Journal reported, “The rates of first marriages in midlife have increased by 74% for women and 45% for men between 1990 and 2019, according to a study published in June. The study also found that about 10% of people marrying for the first time are ages 40 to 59.”

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Why is marriage being delayed?

There are a number of reasons people are delaying marriage — economic stability, religious demographic shifts, the threat of divorce and having other priorities which take precedence over starting a family.

The threat of divorce and financial instability may be a reason younger people delay marriage, according to the Bentley University Newsroom. Millennials may see marriage as a financially risky move and delay it until they reach financial stability. Individuals are achieving financial stability at a later age, which may be a reason why some are delaying marriage.

Yet, marriage correlates with greater economic stability. Brad Wilcox, writing for Institute for Family Studies, said, “Nevertheless, marriage and marital transitions also appear to independently influence the accumulation of wealth in America. Married couples, for instance, benefit from economies of scale that allow them to share housing, food and utilities and devote more of their household income to building wealth.”

Especially for women, student debt is a reason why they are waiting to get married and start having children. The Institute for Family Studies said, “It’s possible that debt may also reduce fertility, independently of marriage. Some studies do show that student debt has a strong effect on delaying fertility. The economic rationale is simple: having and raising children costs money, and student debt gobbles up a share of income right off the top of the budget.”

The Hill said, “Other factors that have contributed to lower marriage rates are declining religious adherence to marriage, public disenchantment with marriage, and more recently, unstable jobs and strained finances, particularly among low-income earners and those with only a high school education.”

Married people are generally more likely to be religious and stay religious. Many religions have norms around marriage and as religious participation declines, individuals who are not religious are more likely to cohabitate, per Deseret News.

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Some also believe the divorce rate has something to do with younger generations choosing to delay marriage.

About half of first marriages in the U.S. end in divorce, according to Forbes. The average length of a marriage is eight years. Second and third marriages fail at a significantly higher rate than first marriages do. “Threat of divorce” is one reason why younger generations may delay marriage.

People who marry around the age of 30 are less likely to divorce than younger married counterparts — with one exception: religious people. Institute for Family Studies said, “But we also have evidence suggesting that religious Americans are less likely to divorce even as they are more likely to marry younger than 30.”

Some are also choosing to delay marriage due to career or education opportunities which take priority over starting a family, according to The Wall Street Journal. Over the course of the last few decades, the number of unmarried mothers and fathers have increased — marriage isn’t always seen as a prerequisite for having children. Research still shows two parent households led to better outcomes for children overall.

And a higher percentage of adults don’t ever want to have children, per Pew Research. Medical reasons and finances top the list for reasons why some adults don’t want to have children, as well as not having a partner.

What’s the impact of delaying marriage?

One of the impacts of delaying marriage has to do with the birthrate. The Institute for Family Studies found that women who married later in life are having fewer children — even when they may want to have more children.

This, in turn, impacts the birthrate.

While around 40% of children are born outside of wedlock, the decreasing marriage rate in connection with the delay in marriage is also contributing to lowering birthrates.

Some research also shows delayed marriage contributes to economic differences. Brigham Young University researcher Jason Carroll explained how delayed marriage can impact economic stability across different populations.

While delayed marriage is sometimes seen through “the experience of the college-educated,” according to Carroll, the majority of the population doesn’t fall into that category. While delayed marriage can slightly benefit women with college degrees in terms of income, the trends for other portions of the population are less promising.

Carroll said, “Personal income levels are not being substantially improved for less-educated Americans who delay marriage, but the risks of nonmarital childbearing and single parenthood are being increased in ways that diminish the economic well-being of both children and adults.”

Delayed marriage doesn’t necessarily mean people will wait to have children, and so nonmarital childbearing is also connected to delayed marriage.

Economic outcomes between children raised in single-parent households differ from those raised in two-parent households. The National Bureau of Economic Research said, “One reason the high-level of non-marital childbearing is an economic issue is because numerous studies show that children raised in single-parent homes fare worse on a number of educational and economic dimensions as compared to children raised in homes with two married biological parents.”

Marriage has a significant and positive impact on economic inequality. In The Atlantic, Wilcox said, “Marriage is deeply implicated in many of the social ills at the top of progressives’ (and the pope’s) concerns: child poverty, income inequality, and stagnating family income.” He argued marriage should be a matter of social justice precisely because of its positive impacts on people’s economic well-being.

Is marrying later really better?

Are there differences between married and unmarried adults?

Marriage has a myriad of concrete benefits, not just economic — such as better health, more involvement in communities and increased happiness. Looking at the demographic between 25 to 54 in the U.S., there are some differences between partnered and unpartnered adults.

Both partnered women and partnered men tend to fare better as earners and are more likely to have completed a bachelor’s degree. Pew Research said 37% of partnered men have completed a bachelor’s degree compared to 26% of unpartnered men, while 43% of partnered women have completed a bachelor’s degree and 33% of unpartnered women have.

Education gaps can also partially explain earning gaps — over lifetime earnings, the difference between a college degree and a high school diploma amounts to $900,000 more for men and $630,000 more for women — but still, partnered men and women tend to be higher earners than their unpartnered counterparts.

The median earnings for partnered men are $57,000 compared to $35,600 for unpartnered men. For married women, it’s $40,000 as opposed to $32,000 for unpartnered women. Pew Research said, “Married men earn more because high earners are more likely to marry in the first place. Cohabiting men also receive a wage premium. In addition, marriage or partnership may make men more productive at work, thus adding to the wage premium that already exists.”