A friend recently shared some news: His youngest child, a successful professional, was getting married in September, finally. Did he approve of the nuptials? “She’s 32,” he answered in a deadpan manner. “I’m just happy she’s getting married.” While the boomer father liked his future son-in-law, the young couple had been living together for a few years. Dad had expected them to get married a lot sooner. What were they waiting for?
The couple was following the path taken by many others: A new Pew Research survey, titled “Millennials: Unmoored from Institutions,” found this generation is “in no rush to get married.” Just 26 percent of millennials are married, compared with almost half of their boomer parents at the same age. The average age of marriage — 27 for women, 29 for men — is at a historical high and still climbing. While Dad was exasperated, his daughter may have actually increased her chances of financial and marital success by waiting. Another report, “Why Knot?” by the National Marriage Project, found that college-educated women in their mid-30s enjoy an annual income premium of almost $19,000 if they wait until 30 or later to marry. And couples who marry older are less likely to divorce than couples who marry in their early 20s.
The decision to marry later doesn’t mean that our adult children are rejecting the institution; it means a different attitude toward the timing. Marriage was once seen as a marker of adulthood, like a job and living independently. As we all know, the recession pushed those markers into the late 20s for many young adults. Marriage has become the last item on millennials’ “to do” list: career started with a good job, check; apartment or condo, check; far-flung vacations, check; nice furniture and household stuff, check; significant other, check. Marriage is now considered a capstone at the end of this “emerging adult” period rather than a cornerstone at the beginning.
Still, the delay leaves many parents puzzled. We all know couples who have gone as far as buying a condo or a house together and still not married. What’s a parent to do? Are we allowed to ask questions? Send a text? For advice, we turned to Ruth Nemzoff, author “Don’t Bite Your Tongue.”
She suggests engaging in some soul searching about why marriage is important before launching into a discussion. “I call marriage the first line against depression,” she says. “I’d talk to adult children about having someone to share with the minutiae and wonders of daily life.” Of course, there are also the legal protections of marriage, especially when it comes to health decisions.
Mary W. Quigley’s blog, Mothering21, tackles parenting of emerging adults and beyond.
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