These days, 20something marriage has gotten a reputation for being a bad idea. That’s partly because parents, peers, and the popular culture encourage young adults to treat their twenties as a decade for exploration and getting one’s ducks in a row, not for settling down. In the immortal words of Jay-Z, “Thirty’s the new twenty.”
Indeed, the median age-at-first marriage has climbed to nearly 30 for today’s young adults, up from about 22 in 1970. Of course, there’s an upside to that. As my coauthors and I report in Knot Yet: the Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America, women who put off marriage and starting a family earn markedly more money than their peers who marry earlier.
But if you’d like to maximize your marital happiness, your odds of having a couple of kids, and of forging common memories and family traditions, you might not want to delay marriage if the right person presents his or herself in your mid-to-late 20s. A University of Texas study found the highest-quality unions were forged by couples who married during that period.
Here are some of the benefits:
- First, you are more likely to marry someone who shares your basic values and life experiences, and less likely to marry someone with a complicated romantic or family history. Those who marry in their twenties, for instance, are more likely to marry someone who isn’t previously married and shares their level of educational attainment as well as their religious faith. Marrying at this stage in your life also allows couples to experience early adulthood together. In the words of Elizabeth Gilbert, a 31-year-old woman who married in her mid-twenties, “My husband and I got to grow up together—not apart. We learned sacrifice, selflessness, compromise, and became better people for it.”
- Perhaps as a result of forging a strong marital friendship, couples who marry younger tend to enjoy more frequent sex than their peers who marry older. And more sex is closely linked to happier marriages.
- Women who marry in their 20s generally have an easier time getting pregnant, and having more than one child, than their peers who wait to marry in their thirties. You’ll also be around to enjoy the grandchildren for longer.
- If you’re a man, there’s evidence that you’ll drink less, work harder, and make more money than your single peers if you marry in your 2os.
- You’re less likely to lose the best possible mate for fear of getting started too young on the adventure that is married life. One single, thirtysomething woman struggling to find a good partner put it this way to psychologist Meg Jay, the author of The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now, and whose TED Talk on twentysomethings has garnered 6.9 million views: “The best boyfriend I ever had was in my mid-twenties. I just didn’t think I was supposed to be [married] with someone then.” And as psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb explains in her book, Marry Him, there’s a higher likelihood of finding a true peer and more appealing partner-for-life in one’s twenties, before those most appealing potential mates marry somebody else by their thirties.
So if it’s a good idea to marry in your mid-to-late 20s, would it be an even better idea to marry earlier? Probably not. That’s because couples who marry in their teens or early 20s are at least twice as likely to divorce than those who wait until 30. The divorce rate for those who marry in their mid-to-late 20s is slightly higher than that for those who marry after 30 — 14 percent versus 10 percent — but if you’re lucky enough to be in a good relationship in your mid-to late-twenties, the evidence suggests the benefits to marrying that person could outweigh that risk. Twenty years ago at the age of 24, I had the opportunity to marry my best friend, a woman well above my pay grade, and it was the best move I’ve ever made.