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Delaying Marriage Poses Problems for Young Couples

Update Date: Mar 15, 2013 12:10 PM EDT

According to a recent report, more and more Americans are waiting later to get married. While couples once chose to marry in their early twenties, many are now waiting until they are nearly 30: the average age at marriage is 26.5 for women and 28.7 for men, historic highs for the country. That marriage delay is working out wonderfully for educated people, who benefit from higher income and higher levels of education. However, for the middle-class majority, many of whom have finished high school but probably not college, that marriage delay is not being accompanied by a delay in childbirth. As a result, many couples are having their first child before marriage, which poses a number of difficult challenges.

Experts writing in the report Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America say that there are two main reasons behind delay in marriage. For less educated Americans, jobs have been increasingly scarce in this economy, which means that young people need to take longer to stabilize their work lives. In addition, more young people now see marriage as a "capstone" rather than a "cornerstone", seeing marriage as a thing to do after they have reached a level of success rather than as a launching pad to help them get there.

Delaying marriage has its benefits. Since the 1980s, the divorce rate has declined as a result of this delay. For educated people, as the Deseret News reports, that delay is associated with a delay in childbirth. Those children, as a result, benefit from stable family lives and their parents' higher income.

However, for the majority of Americans, the picture has not been so rosy. Twenty-something unmarried men are more likely to be less satisfied with their lives, depressed and to drink excessively. In addition, while out-of-wedlock births have long been a reality for low-income people, that shift has occurred for the middle-class as well. By the age of 25, 44 percent of women have given birth, but only 38 percent are married. However, cohabitating couples are more likely to break up than married couples, which means that the children who grow up in these unstable homes have less of an opportunity to move up the ladder for income or education.

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