IT WAS THE END OF MY JUNIOR YEAR OF COLLEGE, AND I WAS considering marrying the woman of my dreams. My father questioned the wisdom of marrying so young (even though he was even younger when he married my mother), but I reassured him that we had come to deeply know and love each other over the last two years and that we wanted to go through life together, starting right away. I explained that we did not want to become "established" and then get married; we wanted to go through that adventure together.
We married the summer before my senior year with little money, a tiny apartment, and endless dreams of our future. Thirty years later, my wife and I are still thankful that we made the decision to grow up together through our 20s.
But my father's apprehension in 1980 has become the trend of this new millennium. In fact, a recent Wall Street Journal article pointed out that some sociologists argue that "early marriage" is the No. 1 predictor of divorce. They encourage young adults to explore their identity, work, and love by delaying marriage and parenthood until their later 20s. They warn that those who fail to postpone these family transitions miss out on better career opportunities, make poorer choices on partners, and develop more marital problems.
Today the perception is that marriage takes more than it gives and brings a good chance of ending in divorce. It shouldn't surprise anyone that the median age for one's first marriage has shifted from the early 20s in 1980 (my decision was the norm at that time) to 28 for men and 26 for women today.
It seems intuitive that age would bring maturity, stability, and better decisions, which would result in more lasting marriages. However, there are a number of risks that work against these later marriages and question the wisdom of this social trend to delay marriage into your 30s.
THE STARTING POINT IS A RECONSIDERATION OF THE CLAIM that early marriages contribute to higher rates of divorce. There was a study conducted in 2002 by Tim Heaton that did find high rates of marital instability associated with young marriages, but the risks were with teen marriages. The impact that age had on predicting marriage outcomes leveled off around age 21 with age making little difference for those who marry between 21 and 30.
Furthermore, there may actually be increased risks associated with delaying marriage to the end of your 20s or into your 30s. For instance, waiting to get married often leads to more premarital sex, premarital cohabitation, and premarital births, which are all associated with higher rates of marital instability. In addition, there is a smaller selection pool as you reach your early 30s (by age 30, 75 percent of the population are married). At that point, the chances of achieving a quality relationship lower because of the difficulty with finding a suitable partner
These risks are often overlooked because of a prevalent attitude today that is quite dangerous and misleading: What you experience in one relationship has no bearing on what will happen in a subsequent relationship. You could call this "relationship compartmentalization," where each relationship occurs in its own compartment without any effect on another.
I like to refer to this attitude as "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas." Obviously, this cannot be true because what occurs in relationships, no matter how insignificant, carries some measure of influence on you, the way you think, and what you take into your next relationship. As scripture says in what is both an encouragement and a warning, "You reap what you sow."
A SOBERING EXAMPLE OF THIS WAS FOUND IN THE RESEARCH on women by Jay Teachman from Western Washington University. He showed that premarital involvement with just one sexual partner other than the person a woman eventually married tripled the risk of divorce as compared with those who had only had sex with their husband. …