Not long ago, Princeton alumna Susan A. Patton bucked current conventional wisdom by advising women to find a husband in college and get married young. The backlash against this advice was immediate, with expert after expert indignantly citing research “proving” that women who get married young are doomed to lives of poverty and divorce, while women who wait longer to marry will be wealthy and successful. This was the gist of a column in Women’s Health magazine, which advised women to wait until at least age 30 to get married. The column was reprinted on the website Healthy Black Woman, offering black women the same counsel.
Well, advocates of later marriage can relax: their dreams are coming true. Men and women are waiting longer than ever to get married. The average age of a first marriage is now 27 for women and 29 for men, and of course a growing number of Americans are not getting married at all. But despite the promises of experts, this trend has not been associated with happier, wealthier families, particularly in the black community.
There is of course nothing inherently wrong with two individuals marrying in their 30s instead of their 20s. But encouraging everyone, particularly black women, to wait until at least age 30 to marry as a matter of principle is terrible advice. Furthermore, the data used to support this advice must be considered in context.
The unfortunate reality is that marriage prospects for black women are at an all-time low. A recent study by Yale University tells us that 42% of black women have never been married, while a study by the National Center for Health Statistics put the number at 55%. Marriage prospects for everyone begin to decline significantly after age 30, and so women (particularly black women) who follow the experts’ advice and delay marriage may end up forgoing it altogether.
While it is true that women who marry later make more money, on average, than women who marry young, the real story is a little more complicated. The left-leaning Brookings Institution recently held a forum to discuss the report Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage. The findings, in a nut shell, were that women who marry later do make more money, but they are not necessarily happier.
The report revealed that married people in their 20s are less likely to be depressed and more likely to be happy than their single (and unmarried but cohabitating) counterparts. Furthermore, women who marry in their mid-20s are more likely to describe their unions as “very happy” after several years than women who marry in their 30s or 40s (or teens).
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.