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Getting married at a young age should be encouraged, not frowned upon, scholars say

The common narrative around millennial relationships is that millennials are delaying marriage or not marrying at all for education and career purposes.

This has brought the divorce rate down, but an essay for National Review makes the case for supporting young adults who are interested in bucking the trend and getting married at an early age.

“Apparently Millenials [sic] and Gen-Xers capable of ascending the capstone-marriage crest — reached only after all educational, career, and financial ducks are in order — brought down the divorce rate a whopping 18 percent,” according to Al Hawkins, professor and director of the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University, and Betsy VanDenBerghe, a writer based in Salt Lake City.

They cite research that while millennials delaying marriage, poorer Americans are opting not to marry at all. They instead simply raise kids and live together without trying “the ascent to an expensive Mount Capstone wedding out of reach for most people who are not college-graduated or well on their way to career success.”

The authors push back against the message that young adults can’t consider marriage “until they’ve already achieved a certain measure of stability and economic well-being.” They propose a solution: “Make 21 to 25 cool again as an age to (inexpensively) wed!”

They argue that the evidence hints “at an interesting association between age of marriage and marital happiness, with the sweet spot for maximizing marital quality occurring at marriage between 22 and 25.” They continue:

On average, these early-to-mid-20s marriages are a little happier than late-20s marriages. Why? Perhaps those marrying earlier and dissenting from the cohabitation consensus put a greater priority on marriage. Or maybe molding two lives together at earlier ages is easier, as couples forge a “we-dentity” early on, instead of trying to reshape a hard-clay “I-dentity” of a settled self resistant to the personal remodeling inherent in marriage. Megan Mcardle in her article “The Many Cases for Getting Married Young” describes the lamp hypothesis of Stanford psychiatry professor Keith Humphrey: When you’ve lived in a room a long time, it can be difficult to find a lamp that exactly suits a lifetime of accumulated bric-a-brac. In the same way, finding someone to fit all of the choices you’ve spent  a decade of young-adult life making will be challenging.

Earlier marriage could also help combat spousal infidelity, the pair writes, pointing to a study that found “on average, married women and men who have had only one sexual partner, their spouse, are happier in their marriage than their counterparts who had multiple sexual partners.”

Cohabitation is also not a sufficient substitute for the real thing:

Amply studied and parsed by social scientists, low-commitment cohabitation offers a test-drive imitation of marriage. Not only does it not prepare a couple for the real thing. It works against marriage, even after we take into account the demographic and attitudinal differences between those who cohabit before marriage and those who don’t. Although living together begins as an exercise in freedom from marital constraints, as one scholar outlines, it paradoxically results in a series of unfortunate consequences: an inertia that makes it harder to leave a relationship before adequately judging its merits; a substitution of high-cost ways of assessing compatibility — e.g., sharing rent, pets, and often children — for low-risk ways such as dating, work projects, and other leisure activities; a situation that may increase conflict in the relationship; and a lower mental threshold for breaking up.

For Hawkins and VanDenBerghe, the solution is clear. There needs to be a revolution in societal views towards early marriage: “Dissenters swimming upstream from the capstone-marriage tide need encouragement, and a naïve populace needs to be weaned from truisms, about cohabitation and marriage, that are neither true nor helpful.”

This includes ending “the broad belief that marrying before age 25 is a divorce disaster waiting to happen,” creating “a new financial model that scales back costs on multiple relationship fronts,” and increasing parental support for young adults who are married.

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