To the dismay of grannies everywhere, Millennials and Gen Zers appear to be in no rush to get married.
The age folks decide to tie the knot has been steadily increasing over the past 60 years: In 2018, the average marriage age for men was 30 and 28 for women, compared to 24 and 20, respectively, in the 1950s.
What we mean by “married”
For this article, we define marriage as the legally binding union between two people. But we want to acknowledge that no one needs government validation or a piece of paper to legitimize their commitment. You may feel like you’re basically married, and that’s totally valid.
There are lots of reasons for this change. Recent financial blows hit Millennials — the current generation of marrying age — hard, making it a struggle to pay rent and buy homes.
Some are happy to blame dating apps, which create a mirage of endless choices for partners. Or maybe people are just too busy hopping flights on budget airlines or exploring alternative relationship structures to feel the need to settle down.
But don’t chalk the marrying-late trend up to indecision. For many younger folks, marriage is a true symbol of compatibility — not a milestone to check off a list. And how are you supposed to be sure someone is the one when you’re still on your mom’s cellphone plan?
Here are some reasons why marrying late is becoming more accepted — and why it’s not a red flag for the future.
“I want to push myself out of this mold society has placed on me to really take the time to question ‘do I even want a marriage in my life?’ Or am I just doing it because it’s another thing I’m supposed to do.” — Taylor, 23, Pullman WA
It was only 40 years ago that banks often required that a man cosign when a woman applied for a credit card. It’s not hard to imagine why getting married at 20 was considered normal. It just made life easier.
While gender inequality is still a serious problem, women in the 21st century are freer — financially and socially — to prioritize other parts of life.
Marrying late can be a gift
With more time to find and discover yourself, marrying late can give you time to build confidence, strengthen relationships, and learn to communicate.
But make sure to stay vigilant about your priorities and work-life boundaries. If it feels like you’re investing all your energy in part of your life, it may be time to reevaluate how you want your energy dispersed.
In 1972, only 29 percent of people believed it was OK to have sex outside of marriage. There was a lot less emphasis put on finding a sexually compatible partner because, well, you weren’t really supposed to have sex at all until the rings were swapped.
Things are a lot different now. Close to 60 percent of people say it’s fine to have sex outside of wedlock. Which means, socially, there’s more leeway to spend time exploring sex — either with multiple partners or deepening one with a chosen boo — before tying the knot.
Sexual compatibility is a thing, y’all!
Getting to know each other’s likes and dislikes and how to communicate that with the ebb and flow of our sex drives is important to a long-lasting companionship.
“We’ve talked about marriage but it doesn’t mean much to either of us on a romantic or commitment basis. We get our sense of relationship security from our connection, not our title. I see marriage as more of a strategic move we could make if/when it’d be helpful in our careers. He has EU citizenship & I have U.S., so if either of us wants to work/live long term in the others world, we’d get married.” — Ellen, 25, Rochester NY
There’s no denying marriage is a serious commitment. That’s pretty much the whole point. But for many folks these days, like Ellen and her partner, marriage isn’t a necessity for a relationship to be “real” or serious.
Live your life at your own pace!
Butif marriage is symbolic for you as a sign of commitment, there can be a lot of pressure and shame around not hitting this milestone. We’re here to help untangle that internal pressure!
There’s no “typical” family in the United States anymore, single parenthood, step-parenthood, co-parenting, are just some of ways families arrange themselves.
At the same time, acceptance of nonmonogamous relationships like polyamory and relationship anarchy — which has seen a 4x increase in the past 15 years — has further deprioritized marriage as folks explore what types of relationships work best for their lifestyle.
You can still be married and nonmonogamous
It’s true that, legally, you can only be married to one person. But married people practice nonmonogamy just like unmarried folks do. There’s no rule saying what a marriage has to look like. Only you and your partner can decided that.
“Initially, I was more interested in getting married in my late twenties or early thirties because of financial reasons, however my view on marriage has changed in the past few years. I don’t view marriage as a necessity or a necessary step in a relationship anymore… Also, my partner and I are still pursuing our education and there are other important things to focus on right now other than marriage.” — Alex W., 24, Richmond VA
From the Great Recession to mountains of student debt to yet another recession brought on by COVID-19, Millennials haven’t had a lot of financial luck as adults. And it’s likely this is one of the big reasons marriage is being put on hold.
In 2014, 34 percent of folks aged 25 to 34 claimed finances were the main reason for waiting to marry.
Don’t marry for money, trust us
There are financial benefits to being married, but it shouldn’t be a reason to get married, especially if you have a little nagging feeling of doubt. Financial incompatibility is also one of the top reasons people divorce, so it’s a good idea to work that out with your partner before putting a ring on it.
From 2002 to 2016, the social acceptability of children out of wedlock went up by 16 points, and continues to rise.
Remember when folks would often feel pressured to get married for the sake of the child? Well, successful parenting shouldn’t be measured by how married you are but how much happiness and healthfulness surrounds the child.
If parents feel happier and are more able to display what a healthy relationship looks like to their child when they’re apart, then why force marriage?
Co-parenting is when unmarried people commit to raising a child together and it’s a totally normal, common way to have a family. It’s up to the co-parents if they want to be in a romantic relationship or if being friends makes more sense.
Most of us have Tinder or Bumble or OkCupid downloaded onto our phones, where it’s easy to meet a date from the comfort of your home.
When you’re inundated with options, it can be harder to settle. Studies like this one show that when presented with a ton of options, humans are overall less satisfied with what they choose.
If you’re antsy to get married, merely hooking up can certainly feel exhausting. But looked at from a different perspective, at least now you have a lot more opportunity to figure out what you want out of a partner.
Plus, people get married off of Tinder all the time. Just sayin.
There’s no such thing as a perfect partner
If you’re putting off marriage because you’re waiting for “The One” or someone “better to come along,” you might need to re-evaluate your goals. Marriage and long-term commitment is about growing together and accepting each other throughout ups and downs. It’s not about finding a perfect person who never changes.
“After attending a few Midwestern weddings and almost getting engaged just to leave the U.S., I realized I view marriage as a means to an end rather than a symbol of unity. I decided that when I date, it’s with the intention of spending my life with the person, in whatever capacity. If we make a home and marriage makes our lives easier in terms of taxes, children, a future move etc, then great — I’ll let the government in on my secret love affair.” — Rachel, 25, Brooklyn NY
Now, with the ways the job market, technology, and remote working has exploded over the lifetime of Millennials and Gen Zers, it’s easier for us to have goals outside of marriage while still supporting ourselves.
Discovery became an achievable and important passion for many people, and marriage, where you share your life decisions with someone, can sometimes be antithetical to that. That’s not to say people can’t find a partner who wants to do the same thing but if you have the means and energy to just go, why wait?
You don’t need a partner to define your idea of success
If you haven’t thought of what a life without marriage looks like, or imagined a life without a partner, this can feel discombobulating — but try it! Instead of thinking about the negatives of marrying late, imagine all the freedom you have.