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When Should People Marry?
I wrote my column yesterday on marriage research that we're not commonly aware of. You'll be able to read it on Friday, but I thought I'd talk about some of it today. (You can look at my Delicious bookmarks on marriage research here).

One of the interesting tidbits I ran across lately is a researcher in Texas called Norval Glenn has found that the ideal age of first marriage is in the early twenties. You're less likely to get divorced if you marry in your early twenties than if you marry in your late twenties or early thirties.

Marriages when you're a teenager, though, aren't very stable.

Why? And what does that mean for us?

I think there are a number of reasons, including:

1. You aren't established yet, so you have a chance to establish yourselves together. You're not trying to meld two sets of dreams, and two sets of habits, and two households, as much as you're starting out together, and figuring all these things out from scratch. It's less of an adjustment, and you tend to adjust together, meaning that you tend to become quite similar.

2. You have fewer long-term relationships, or heartbreaks, behind you. Other research shows that the more partners you have before you marry, the less stable your marriage is. What dating really does is teaches you how to break up. It teaches you how to fall in love and then lose it. So dating widely isn't a good foundation for marriage. It could be, then, that those who marry younger are more stable because they have less baggage.

Note that of course I'm not saying that everyone should just get married in their early 20s. I don't think that's practical, because you may not have met anyone yet who is right for you. God is going to bring people into your life when He's ready.

But what I do think the research shows is that we should be READY to be married once we hit our early twenties. We shouldn't freak if our children come home at age 22 engaged, as long as we know our children are mature. And we should be working to make our kids mature, so that in their early twenties they could start to make these decisions.

The problem in our current culture is that we're trying to push the age at first marriage later and later. We want people to get their full education, and land a good job, and be established before they settle down, likely because we're scared they won't finish their education or won't finish what they've started because they'll get pregnant or something.

Pushing the age of first marriage later and later, though, also means that our children believe they don't HAVE to mature until far later. They can goof off in their twenties, they can act irresponsibly in college, they can continue to mooch off their parents and not get real jobs. They don't have it in their heads that once they turn twenty, it's time to start carving their own lives for themselves. For boys, especially, many don't grow up until they're way on their way to 30. And I don't think that's a positive development.

If we created a culture that said that we expect that people will begin to marry at 22 or 23 (obviously not everyone will, but they'll start), then perhaps our kids would start maturing faster. Instead, we give them the idea that we don't want them settling down until 27 or 28, and then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I married at 21, and I'm really glad I did. We had so much school ahead of us anyway, and if we waited to graduate, we would have been 28. So why not marry early? And because of that we had children early, when I was still energetic. And we're parents to teenagers while we're still in our thirties.

Not everyone will meet someone early, especially because there are far more Christian girls than Christian boys. But perhaps we need to stop this idea that people should settle down first. It doesn't look like that works anyway. Starting your life together seems to work better.

What do you think? And what's your experience? I'd love to know!
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At 7:55 AM , Blogger Sheri said…

I was 20 he was 23 (Our 18th anniversary is Monday!!)


At 7:58 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

18 and 26 - epic fail both times


At 8:22 AM , Blogger Tara said…

I was a month over 23. We'll celebrate eleven years next month.

I was just out of college, he had purchased a house and had two and a half years of teaching under his belt. He's still at the same job (though we're on our fourth house!)

What do you think of the biblical times culture of marrying in the teen years???


At 8:28 AM , Blogger Andrew & Terri said…

I was 19 and he was 21. We celebrated 10 happy years of love and commitment in May. We did both finish school (he a masters and I a bachelors), and I taught for several years before we had children. Now we have a three-year-old son and another on the way.


At 8:29 AM , Blogger Mrs W said…

It will be mine and my husband's 3rd anniversary tomorrow, I was 21 when we got married and he was 22. I'm glad we married young even though people tried to tell us we were doing the wrong thing. It would have been even harder had I waited any longer because I had been living on my own for several years and already had myself established.

He came straight from his parents house which in a way was aggravating because it was ingrained in him to still obey them even after we were married, and his mom more than took advantage of that. They should make laws that a mom MUST butt out of stuff when her son gets married lol unless she is specifically asked. Not really, but the guys mom should let him go.

My husband had a lot of growing up to do because even at age 22, his manipulative mom micromanaged him. Now, every time I ask him if he can do something for me, he thinks I am trying to micromanage him, a grown man, just like she did. Not true but because she was manipulative, I suffer for it!

Anyway, having kids early will certainly help you grow up quickly too. Ten months after we were married I had our first baby boy, and now, at our third anniversary, we have three very gorgeous little boys.


At 9:38 AM , Blogger Courtney Kirkland said…

I was 20 and he was 26. He was a Navy boy so he did a lot of growing up during his time overseas and before we started dating. I have always been a more mature dater and was never interested in "dating around" or "playing the field" so I didn't have a lot of baggage.

We both got to really start a life together when we got married. He re-enlisted in the Coast Guard and we moved away from home-from both of our families and friends, so we have had to learn how to rely on one another rather than on anyone else. We agreed before we got married that we would work through any situation that came up and that divorce was not an option for us. We have been married almost 2 years and have a one year old and neither of us could be happier.


At 9:39 AM , Blogger Llama Momma said…

I was 24 and my husband was 32. We'll celebrate 14 years in April.

I was young, but brought a lot of baggage into our marriage. My husband was older and more mature, and had very little baggage.

God has blessed our marriage beyond measure. I thank God for my husband --a godly man who has really been Christ to me.


At 11:39 AM , Blogger Devildogwife said…

I was 20 and he was 21 when we "finally" married. (We started dating back in junior high.) We've been married 12 years. We were both quite mature for our age due to the way we were raised and circumstances in our lives.


At 11:42 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

This is interesting! Most of the women commenting here were under 25, though some hubbies were older.

Perhaps religious people just tend to marry earlier, which may also affect the fact that early marriages are more successful. Early marriages are more likely to be made up of religious people who don't believe in divorce, for instance. It would be interesting to know the results in that study if they controlled for religious belief.

But anyway, I'm glad to see I'm not alone!


At 11:56 AM , Blogger Jenn said…

I was 22; he was 23. Sometimes I wonder how things would be if we had waited a couple of more years to marry. We were married only 7mo when I got pregnant with our son - but I know everyday God's timing was right! By the time we were 25 & 26, we had 2 children. We have been married 11 1/2 years now - and I love him more today than ever! We will always encourage our children to finish college, but God's timing with the details of our lives (including that special someone) is always perfect. As long as they rely on Him, I know they will make the right choices.


At 12:51 PM , Blogger Terry @ Breathing Grace said…

I was 23, my husband was 21. We have been married 15 years. And neither of us was particularly religious at the time.

He did, however, come from an intact family and his extended family (aunts and uncles) also had many examples of good marriages with longevity.


At 1:59 PM , Blogger LAURA said…

I was just talking to someone the other day about this same thing. My husband and I were 23 when we got married. I think that helped. I had had a plan for myself of what I wanted to do after college but then our friendship progressed and we started dating... and three months later we were married. :) Had I followed my other plan and been doing what I loved and wanted to do I would have had a really hard time giving that up. It would have most likely become an issue in the marriage. Instead I got married and like you said we built a life together... one that works for the whole family... and that makes it all so much easier.


At 2:35 PM , Blogger Kelli said…

My husband had just turned 22 and I was 21. We had dated 5 years in high school and went through some college together. We were best friends and neither had dated too many people seriously before each other. We also "waited" until we were married and what a blessing that was. No baggage, no comparisons, no worry. We've been married for 8 years this past June and have three beautiful children. I'm so glad I was pregnant in my twenties so that I'd have energy to keep up with three little ones. =)


At 3:22 PM , Anonymous Jen @ After The Alter said…

I totally agree with your post...I always have said that I think people who marry in their early 20's has a less chance for you said you get to establish yourselves together. At that point, you don't have much money or a huge get to grow together. Plus when you are older you have your own money, your own friends and you are set in your makes it difficult to merge! I got married at 27 but my husband and I got together when he was 19 and I was we got to grow together anyway...


At 3:46 PM , Blogger sarahe said…

we were both 22, have now been married for 3 1/2 years. we also had dated for over 4 years before getting married. we have both always been very mature for our ages--he lived in his own apartment for a few years and i lived in the dorms at college, so we knew how to take care of ourselves, but also weren't too established. we're still waiting at least 2 more years before having kids b/c of some health issues that i've had, but we are in a great place for 25 year olds--have a house that is almost paid off, secure jobs, and are very stable


At 5:41 PM , Blogger Alex Headrick said…

I married when I was 20 and my husband was 22. It was the best thing that could have happened to us. We went through rough times and matured way faster than our single counterparts, but that was to our benefit. I'm now 24, have been married four years, and am more in love with my husband than I was four years ago. We have no children as we decided to enjoy several years kid free, finish our educations, and buy a house first. But marrying young helped us mature far faster than anyone I know.


At 5:51 PM , Blogger Smockity Frocks said…

I was 18 and my husband was 21. We are expecting our 8th baby on our 25th wedding anniversary! I think long lasting marriages are less a result of age when married and mostly a result of commitment come what may.


At 5:55 PM , Anonymous Tessa said…

We were both 19. We had dated for two years and decided within the first couple of months that it was for real. It defiantly helped that I knew shortly after we met that God and placed him in my life to be my husband. We have been married for 5 years and have an adorable 19 month old son and hope to have several more children.
I think it helped to marry young because we weren't so set in our ways and lives that we had to work someone into it. We got to "grow up" together which helped us to mesh.
The biggest factor in our marriage succes is praying together, reading scripture together, and attending church togeher. Studies show that no matter what age your get married, those factors drastically reduce the chance of divorce (Focus on the Family did a study).
Being young was a bonus for us and imo the less so-called relationship experience the better. Less break-ups means less chance of breaking up your marriage.


At 5:55 PM , Blogger Robin said…

Wow! This is SO interesting! My husband was 19 and I was 20, we've been married almost 12 years and we're married for 7 years before we had our first of three daughters. We supported ourselves through 2 yrs of Bible school, 2 Bachelor's degrees and 1 Master's degree. Couldn't agree more about growing up together and depending on each other!


At 6:01 PM , Blogger Weird Unsocialized Mom said…

We were 21 and 23. Had our first child at just shy of 25 and 27. We celebrated 18 years this year, despite the fact that I came from a broken home and was, statistically, doomed to be a marriage failure.


At 6:05 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I was 21, he was a little older.

Knowing what I realized not long after we married, I was not ready. Neither was he, really. He had unrealistic expectations - a common theme for him; he hasn't changed - and apparently I did as well. I had no idea what "real" communication was, that getting to know him mostly long distance was the wrong thing to do, etc.

Suffice it to say, I want out but for the time being I am stuck. I've been miserable but I have done a lot of growing so at least there's that much.

I normally don't use the Anon option to comment, but for this one I felt it necessary. Sorry.


At 6:55 PM , Blogger thriftymomma said…

I was almost 24 and he was 27. We are still married 17 years later with two lovely kids. I agree in that we also felt we had a lot of school still and we knew we would be together and didn't feel like wasting time. We love each other still and are strong because we've been together and through a lot of things in this time. Can't imagine it any other way now.


At 8:21 PM , Blogger Megan said…

I was 18 when I married my husband. I was mature for my age and ready to start a life w/ him. We just celebrated 14 yrs of marriage in Sept. I feel we have grown up together in a lot of ways and because of this I can't imagine going through this life w/o him.
I promised myself I would go to school and just last spring I returned(my husband did too). So now we are sharing another life experience together. Actually it has been a blessing for my children to watch their mother working so hard on her school work as well.
I can see what you are saying about people who wait until they are in their late 20's- 30's. I notice a lot of the couples I know who married later almost at times have separate lives outside of the home. In our case we do everything together and I love it that way.


At 9:40 PM , OpenID birthamiracle said…

I met my husband in my early teens and married him the week after my 18th birthday. He was in his mid twenties, so he had a well-established job, and I had a career chosen (still training). We just celebrated our fifth anniversary together and are expecting our third child. I could not be happier and I am SO full of gladness that God put us together. I am looking forward to a long life together!
This is certainly an interesting topic! Divorce is so prevalent today, even among Christians which is more than sad. I think that if people married their best friends instead of their crushes we'd be a lot better off!


At 10:15 PM , Blogger Shaun and Holly said…

I was 19 when I got married and my husband was 23. He re-trained and went back to college when we had 2 little ones. We grew soooo much in the 1st 7 years (many challenges). But it has been so worth it and I am thankful! This Spring we will have been married for 17 years!! :)



At 12:38 AM , Anonymous Sue said…

I was 26 and he was 30. We will be celebrating 19 years this December. Statistics say that 80% of marriages fail with married couples having 1 child with autism. We have 2. Both of us came with heavy baggage having many traumatic experiences growing up. I found my soul mate. I cherish him. He is my hero. We had a tiny little wedding b/c we couldn't afford a big one. I want to re-new our vows on our 20th anniversary and have a big wedding with our children, but therapy and autim eats up every penny and then some. The needs are beyond words throughout the life of individuals with autism. Why did he stay? Why didn't he leave? I hope (as he is snoring next to me) that it is love... pure and simple love. We made our twins and adopted one together! Autism x2? It must have been Gods way of teaching us some lessons that we still needed and need to learn. Add cancer (me) on top of that and he is still by my side. I never dreamt that my life could be this challenging... but when a thought crosses my mind that I might have to do it alone, I know I couldn't... He is my silver lining to every cloud.... I love him every new day with more love than the day before. I never knew I could love someone so much, but I'm still learning! When Should people marry? I don't know... perhaps it is why should people marry? Today, I don't think it is wise due to the culture of the kids... cell phones an texting.. What used to be my grandmothers way of marriage was arranged (they were married for 69 years) turned into my mother's way of dating which was not arranged which turned into my way of dating adding the telephone (less talking 1:1 time) now has turned into my son with texting and cell phones and 7 months into a relationship - they didn't know each other... Didn't know one's favorite color or one's favorite food? ... When they finally would speak on the telephone (due to a punishment: no texting for one week taking away my son's cell phone) then they realized that they couldn't TALK to one another... they didn't know what to say... relationships have changed and I am scared for the future.... for now, I feel it could be any age as long as you are willing to work on things together... and live the life of your vows that you spoke on your wedding day.


At 11:26 AM , Anonymous Ann Dunagan said…

My husband & I married young (I was 19, and he was 20 - by 2 weeks!). We had the full blessing of our parents, and we had prayed and fasted fervently about the timing. We felt that the Lord directed us from Romans 12:2 about knowing the "good, acceptable, and perfect will of the Lord." We felt this was progressive, and we wanted to be in God's PERFECT will. At first we wondered if God was telling us that particular summer would be good, the next year would be acceptable, and the third year (after we had graduated from college) would be perfect; however, the more we prayed, we felt God directing us that it didn't have to do with AGE or college. Instead it had to do with earnestly seeking God's Word and what He says about the requirements of a husband and wife; to the extent that we would obey and follow God's will, would be the extent that we would have a successful God-glorifying marriage.

We've now been married just about 25 years!!! And now two of our big kids (currently 19 and 21) are in special God-glorifying relationships!!!

Here's a fascinating (and well documented) article I read recently on The Christian Post, challenging Christian families to be open with our grown children Marrying Earlier to come against the attack on family values.


At 12:44 PM , Blogger livingwaterhomeschool said…

I was 19, he was 21. We've been married for ten years.

I'm glad we married so young. We feel like we grew up together. We weren't really "set in our ways" yet, where as I think if we had met when we were older, we would have been. We started off poor and, really, having that time of struggling set the foundation of our marriage. We faced several chrisies very early on in our marriage, we feel if we could get through those, we can get through anything together.

Both of us have parents who have been married for 30+ years. We went into married life verbalizing and truly knowing that we didn't believe in divorce. We had great examples in our parents of working through problems and staying committed. We weren't Christians when we first married, but are now and see many wonderful examples through our church of couples that have long term marriages. I think it helps, to be surrounded by people with the same view that marriage is a covenant, and despite the struggles that we can face, we remain committed for life.


At 12:55 PM , Blogger Sheila said…

Wow! I am so awed at how young everybody was! I always thought I was the only one who married early, but I guess a lot of us did.

Let me stress--again--that I don't think marrying young for the sake of marrying young is the point. I think it's more, like many of you said, that you're going to God with it, and you're mature yourself, and you're sure this is what you want.

The whole idea that you need to "play the field" til you "find the right one" is off-message anyway. If we want our marriages to work, we need to have the right attitude about "being" the right person, rather than finding the right person.

That said, compatability is important, and that's why we need to be careful when we marry. But if we're ready, I don't think age matters so much.

And Sue, I love what you said about the way teens date today. I never thought of that--that texting is replacing relationship. That is scary!

Thanks all of you for sharing your stories!


At 1:15 PM , Blogger Casandra said…

I was 25 and he was 32. We are approaching our 8 year anniversary.

The first few years of marriage were extremely difficult for me. I had put myself through college, established a career, and lived on my own from the time I was 18. After marriage I could no longer live my life just for me and felt resentful of my lost freedom. God changed my heart, and now I feel very blessed to have a partner in life.

In February I gave up my "fancy" government job and became a SAHM. I wouldn't trade my life for any other.

Honestly, it may have been easier to have been married younger, but now I can say I have no regrets. I have lived in both worlds and I prefer the one I live in now.


At 1:21 PM , Blogger Sheila said…


That's really beautiful! I'm glad you're happy now. Everything in life is a trade-off, but it's always good when we feel like we made the right one!

Ann & livingwaterhomeschool--

It's neat how influential your parents were when you married young. I think parents do play a big role. We need to prepare our kids for marriage, even at a young age, but then we need to support them when they do marry (by not interfering, for instance)!

The article Ann pointed to above is really interesting. You all should read it if you haven't already!


At 4:02 PM , Blogger Our Family of 5 said…

I was 21 and he was 22. I am so thankful for your article and this research. It seems so many people think this is too young to marry and my husband and I disagree. We have 3 kids and are still in our 2o's!


At 7:16 PM , Blogger Melissa said…

i was 30 & my hubby 33. we just celebrated our 1 year anniversary. i'm trying to not be bothered by everyone thinking it's better to marry young! the ideal time to marry is when it is God's idea for you as an individual. i wanted to marry at 21, 22, 23, & ESPECIALLY by 29, but i just had not met the right person. i hated that. but then God brought him into my life & it was PERFECT timing & there is no one in this world that would be a better mate for me! i think it is very important that people marry only when they know it is right & then be the Godly kind of wife (not naggy wife) God's called them to be!


At 7:24 PM , Blogger Sheila said…


ABSOLUTELY! I totally agree with what you're saying. We do need to wait for the right person to come along, and we need to make sure it's God's will. And sometimes God doesn't bring that right person into our lives until much later.

I don't think people are saying EVERYBODY should marry young--at least I hope they aren't saying so.

I think what most people are saying, and what the point of my post was intended to be, was that we, as a society, need to stop DISCOURAGING people from marrying young. With the average age of marriage increasing year by year, we tend to think of early marriages as somehow bad. But research doesn't bare that out.

The thing that really matters on an individual basis is that you've made sure that God has directed you to this person. But at a societal level it's slightly different. I think we need to be nudging the average age of marriage back down a bit, making it socially acceptable once again to marry at 21 or 22. Not everybody will, of course, and that's fine. But telling boys that it's okay to wait until they're 30 encourages irresponsibility and laziness, I think. But that's just my two cents worth!


At 10:46 AM , Blogger Melissa said…

Yes, i agree! It's fine for people to marry young if that is the plan for their life. But God may have a different path for others. I'm glad i had my 20's single NOW (in retrospect), but had i married young, i'm sure i'd be glad that is how it worked out. I have a friend who just got married & she is 20, i think. But there is no doubt in my mind that they are right for each other. :)


At 4:19 PM , Blogger Nurse Bee said…

First time commmenter here who popped over from Terry's blog. I may be different from many of your readers in that I'm not a SAHM, although marriage and family are priorities for me. I got married at 25, right after I graduated from school and my husband was 30 (he was the only guy I ever dated--and I met him when I was 23), we've been married 3.5 years and have one child so far.

I think more attention should be turned to how long a couple dates rather than focusing on their ages, as we all meet our spouses at different ages.

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Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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