Marital bliss can wait, according to a recent study that says women are waiting longer to tie the knot—if at all—these days.
Not long ago in the 1950s, approximately 65 percent of women over the age of 15 were married. Now, researchers at the National Center for Family and Marriage Research (NCFMR) at Bowling Green State University say that statistic has dramatically changed. Less than half of all women in the U.S. are married today, making this the lowest percentage since the turn of the century.
“Although the vast majority of Americans say they want to get married, fewer are actually getting (and staying) married,” says Susan Brown, co-director at NCFMR. “Indeed, more than 10 percent of baby boomers have never married, and at this point, it is unlikely that they ever will.” This trend, says Brown, is one we can expect to see continue with younger generations, too.
Interestingly enough, if you go back even further in time, the marriage rate in 1920 was three times as high as it is today, indicating that more and more women see marriage as just one of an array of options now—even if they want to have children.
“Career options and goals are more available now, and for many women, these have taken on equal priority so that the question is more one of timing today,” explains Jane Greer, Ph.D., a marriage and relationship psychotherapist in New York City and author of “What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship.” “The urgency and rush to start a family early is no longer the norm. Many women can pursue their careers and postpone having a family. Because there are so many more options for older women to get pregnant and have children, it’s enabled them to balance their careers. Also, many women are opting to become single mothers. In short, marriage is no longer necessary to secure a family.”
Not only are fewer women choosing to walk down the aisle, but those who do are waiting until they’re older. According to the study, a woman’s average age at first marriage is now the highest it’s been since the early 1900s, at nearly 27 years old.
The reason for this boils down to our own expectations about what needs to be in place before we marry, explains Brown. “These days, couples treat marriage as a capstone experience, a way to signify to others that they have made it,” she says. “Many hold the view that marriage is attainable only after one has completed their education, gotten a stable job, paid off their debts and is on the road to buying a home.”
Also, adds Brown: “These days, couples can now enjoy many of the benefits traditionally confined to marriage. They can live together, have children together and pool their resources—without getting married.”
And it’s not just women in the U.S. who are holding off on saying “I do.” “Marriage is declining throughout the western world,” adds Brown. “Whereas, it was once largely universal, increasingly couples are content to live together outside of the bounds of legal marriage.”
But that doesn’t mean some women aren’t still married to the idea of getting married. “Many find fulfillment in unmarried relationships and see few benefits to getting married,” says Brown. “Nonetheless, marriage remains an experience that most Americans desire. The battle over same sex marriage is a good example of that.”
In the end, this trend proves that having a relationship can take on many forms these days. Marriage is just one of them, and more women are choosing not to rush to get married—if at all—which may be a good thing considering that divorce rates continue to skyrocket. Less than one percent of women were separated or divorced in 1920; today, that figure is 15 percent.
But don’t let all of this scare you away from marriage altogether if it’s something you desire, notes Greer. Just take your time. “You don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to marry someone, but don’t feel like you have to marry the first guy who comes along,” she says. “Let your heart be your guide, and don’t be driven by the timeline of having to get married now or later. The choice is there, so make your choice about your own relationship and what feels right, as opposed to the ‘when’ of getting married.”