David French’s post here the other day on when to marry struck me as very sensible. I especially appreciated the links, as I had missed most of the controversy he mentioned. I wanted to expand a bit on one thing he notes in passing: that “later marriages appear less vulnerable to divorce and more prosperous.” On both of those variables, I’d just note something that oddly seems to get ignored in a lot of articles on this subject: Waiting to get married appears to yield diminishing returns.
Writing at one of those links, Dylan Matthews of the Washington Post comments about the correlation between the age of first marriage and female earnings: “Getting married at 25 rather than 19 makes a big difference. At 30 rather than 25? Less so.” Also, a married woman’s economic well-being will generally not be fully captured by her personal earnings.
It is of course highly likely that if the age of first marriage drifted up to 40 the divorce rate would fall. If nobody got married, nobody would get divorced. Again, though, past a certain point waiting does not much reduce the risk of divorce. Family scholar W. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia tells me in an email that the reduction of risk starts to decline around age 25, which is lower than the current median age of first marriage for women. About 15 percent of women who get married for the first time between ages 24 and 26 will be divorced after five years; the figure for women who wait until they are 33 or older is 11 percent.
The upshot of all this, I would say, is that a 25-year-old woman who is thinking about getting married should not be deterred by the thought that marriages of people that young don’t work.
And while the age of first marriage has risen at the same time divorce rates have fallen, it has also coincided with decreasing stability for households with children. Waiting to get married doesn’t mean waiting to have kids.