Best Age for Marriage

Mark Regnerus takes to the WaPo Outlook section to argue in favor of marrying in one’s early 20s in order to garner various social, economic, and fertility advantages.   Peter Suderman pushes back, contending that these aren’t very good reasons to get married and that people should get married and have kids whenever they want. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, who’s 22 and engaged, thinks Regnerus is providing a public service by pushing back against societal pressure to delay marriage until completing one’s education, getting established in one’s career, and so forth.

Having myself married for the first time weeks shy of my 40th birthday and traveling in circles where marrying in one’s thirties is rather normal, I’d say that it depends on one’s goals and the sheer timing of finding a compatible partner.

If you’re 22 and set on going to professional or graduate school, I’d delaying marriage until you’re finished with those endeavors and are ready to focus on your spouse.  To be sure, some manage to do both, as my colleague Steven Taylor did.  Indeed, if you’re able to balance your priorities right, it might be helpful to have someone there to provide emotional and financial support while you’re in school.  Most people, though, will likely be poor students and/or poor spouses by trying to balance the two.

Certainly, if you want to have children, you’re likely better off starting in your 20s than in your 40s, as I have.  Not only is conception easier and the risk of complications lower, you’ll have more energy.  The advantages that normally accrue with age are money and wisdom/perspective.

Ultimately, though, Peter’s right:  The key is to find the person you want to spend the rest of your life with and be emotionally ready to make the commitment.  If you haven’t reached that state at 22, I wouldn’t advise marrying the one you’re with just because it’s time to get married.  Conversely, if you’re 22 and have those things, I wouldn’t break it off because you haven’t reached that point on your checklist.

Photo by Flickr user steena under Creative Commons license.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. This is a very personal decision and not subject to extreme strictures on either end. My younger sister was married and had her two kids by the time she was 22. My wife and I waited a bit longer and had our second child when we were 37. The net result is at forty my sister’s children were out of the house and they were free to travel and do other things they wanted to do. Whereas, my wife and I are now fifty with a child still in sixth grade, but my wife and our got to travel a lot when we were younger and were more financially secure when our children came along.

    There is no right answer to this question. Just zealots who imagine their personal experiences or views should somehow be instructional, if not binding, on others.

  2. Brian J. says:

    So, when did you get married the second time?

  3. James Joyner says:

    So, when did you get married the second time?

    Still working on the first! But to say that I was married at 39 isn’t to say that I hadn’t been married previously.

  4. PD Shaw says:

    If you’re 22 and set on going to professional or graduate school, I’d delaying marriage until you’re finished with those endeavors and are ready to focus on your spouse.

    I wouldn’t agree with that, particularly if the professional career will make similar demands on a relationship or if graduate school is likely to culminate in . . . more graduate school.

    But I think the brutal reality is that being in school for a long period of time doesn’t necessarily advance the maturation process. I certainly don’t believe I was mature enough to marry at 22. I blame school, how mature is that?

  5. James Joyner says:

    I wouldn’t agree with that, particularly if the professional career will make similar demands on a relationship or if graduate school is likely to culminate in . . . more graduate school.

    Most who get their PhD go straight through, without a stop-off in on-academic life. I had a four year sojourn into the Army before going back. In any event, I’m not sure I’d have been better off married while trying to spend 14 hours a day studying and then writing.

  6. Bobbert says:

    Certainly, if you want to have children, you’re likely better off starting in your 20s than in your 40s, as I have. Not only is conception easier and the risk of complications lower, you’ll have more energy.

    Definitely. Maybe it’s different for you since most of the people you know married in their thirties too, but one of the problems we had with having kids at our age is that we don’t fit in anywhere. People in their twenties with young kids think we’re old geezers. Parents our age have kids in college and are always giving us the “you think it’s hard now, wait until he’s a teenager” speech.

    The advantages that normally accrue with age are money and wisdom/perspective.

    Well I’m 0 for 2 on that one.

    Ultimately, though, Peter’s right: The key is to find the person you want to spend the rest of your life with and be emotionally ready to make the commitment. If you haven’t reached that state at 22, I wouldn’t advise marrying the one you’re with just because it’s time to get married. Conversely, if you’re 22 and have those things, I wouldn’t break it off because you haven’t reached that point on your checklist.

    Yep. Married at 36 and a Dad at 39. As you said the key is finding the right person.

  7. Boyd says:

    As a currently unmarried, thrice divorced father of five and grandfather of two, I’m eminently unqualified to comment on this post.

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