Friday, August 30, 2013

Wedding Bells Ring Later In Life. Will That Impact the Age of Our Heroes and Heroines? by Roz Denny Fox


In the last few months I’ve seen an increase of articles in women’s magazines about how the average age for couples to marry has ticked up from 23/24 to 29/30 with an increasing number of women opting out of marriage altogether. I realized in my own writing that the age of my couples are often 30-plus, but thought it was because I give them a child or two and so put hero and heroine in their 30s.


When I checked out articles on the subject I found that some of the change comes from a couple’s decision to live together before they marry. Typically in our stories we don’t show our main characters doing that. Another reason behind putting off marriage is for one or both in a relationship to finish getting higher degrees. That works for our books. Giving our H or H a Master’s or Doctorate prior to when our story begins is common.


But I find it interesting that with the number of fairy-tale weddings splashed all over TV that young women aren’t in any rush to become brides. In 1970  60% of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married.  By contrast a study done in 2010 showed only 20% married by age 24. The sociologist who conducted the study says if the rate of decline continues getting married will hit zero by 2042. The decline doesn’t appear to be leveling off. Rebecca Traister, author of an upcoming book about unmarried women due out in 2014 maintains this is unprecedented in America. She says the decline is partly because women no longer see a need to marry for security. Also more men and women see that the traditional marriage didn’t work out for their parents, so they choose to wait until individually they’re more settled.  Ms. Traister cites the economy as a factor. More young people are struggling with college debt which drives them to return home to parents, or set up co-op living with friends. This staves off long-term planning.


Stephanie Coontz in her book, Marriage, A History points out that today marriage looks different than when death ended a marriage before divorce, and when men had the final word on all decisions within the family unit.  Today people live longer, are healthier and can procreate at later ages so there is less pressure to marry young.


 A sociologist at Johns Hopkins notes in a recent study that for the first time in history more women than men head into the workforce with higher degrees which translates into women with greater earning power. Thus women feel more liberated and more able to live on their own. Where marriage used to be the first step to adulthood, now it’s almost the last. Because women are moving up corporate ladders, opportunities to relocate for their jobs now mean if married, advancement opportunities can drive a couple apart. It seems there’s also less a desire on the part of men and women to have children before they explore a range of avenues at work and play. Many cite wanting to own a home and be settled in a good job before starting a family.


I think instinctively romance writers books reflect these shifts which show women as more independent, a little older, and choosing to get married when it feels right. What do you think?

27 comments:

  1. Incredibly pertinent post for romance authors, Roz. I knew about the trend, but not the percentages. Wow!. It makes sense financially. Overall, being more mature and able to stand on one's own is a huge plus. There are so many individual and socio-economic factors that play into when a person gets married. I like the fact that not having to depend financially on a significant other, allows a person to save marriage for their soul-mate/true-love. The key is in not getting so caught up in career, that a person forgets to let family/love be a part of their life. A lot of heroes and heroines in romances struggle to figure that out ;).

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    1. I like to think people are still marrying for true love. I agree that romance H & H have to struggle with whether or not they want to get married. Good thoughts on the subject.

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  2. I have a friend who says the only reason for couples to get married is to have children. There may be some truth to that. I also think that women tend to want to get married more than men. With a greater number of women focusing on their careers before settling down, it makes sense that couples would marry later.

    Cathy McDavid
    "The Rancher's Homecoming" July 2013
    "His Christmas Sweetheart" November 2013

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    1. Cathy, interesting aspect if a lot of people make that calculation. Probably women have always wanted to get married and be married more than men. That could date back to when women needed security. But in the old days men needed women to cook etc. And I think men who were once married and lose a spouse are more anxious to remarry than are women in the same situation. Thanks for coming on to comment.

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  3. Wow, Roz! That's like a research thesis! You done good, lady, as they say around here in New Mexico! :-) As far as my stories - Ella Clah is a career woman with a teenager, born to a man she knew she'd never marry. My Sister Agatha.... well, she's a nun though she had a wild past. My romance heroines - go the range. They usually don't want to settle down - they're fine on their own - but then fall in love with the right guy... as I did.

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    1. Aimee--I'm laughing--I think I could/should be a career student. I love learning and digging into research. I wonder if while your heroine go the range of age (I presume you mean) do your newer books tend to have older heroines who have lived on their own before they get married?

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  4. Wow, the stats are eye-opening! I have noticed the trend in life, but never thought much about it. I have seen it reflected in some of the newer books I am reading and thought it was an odd trend...evidently not.

    Of course, then there is the whole trend about writing romance about 'cougar' relationships.

    Things they are a-changin'...

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    1. Rose, it's probably my age and upbringing, but I still find many of the cougar stories uncomfortable to read. Although one made me think when it was the friend of the mother's son who had been killed in war. The friend seemed older because of all he'd been through, and her ongoing worry about falling in love with someone her son's age was so well done. So writing across ages really depends on the writer I guess.

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  6. Roz, I agree with Aimee! You are a researcher- and an amazing writer as well. No wonder you've reached such success. Your post is fascinating and terrifying. Now I'm wondering when or if my daughter will get married and it's a frightening thought that she might not. I'm shocked at such a precipitous drop, but not surprised given the factors you shared. I suppose we'll have to consider our book writing as a service as well as our passion in that we will inspire readers that true love exists and that a HEA is possible- with hard work and- as my mother says, 'Stick-with-it-ness'. That's her formula for a long term marriage :)

    Thank you for this post and it definitely has me thinking about the age I use for my protagonists. I've been told my voice sounds a bit YA and I think that part of the reason is because I write YA, but I now realize that it may be because my hero/heroines are still in their 20s. I was told a sister who is 25 and a brother who is 27 wouldn't tease each other as I'd originally written them as they need to act like adults. I understand and accept the feedback wholeheartedly and understand now that I was drawing on siblings I know in that age group who do quarrel and throw flip flops at each others' heads and try to outdo each other with using high point scrabble words when talking (an inside family joke).

    It pained me to make the relationship more 'grownup' because it didn't seem to reflect what I experience... but now, after reading this, I understand that people are growing up later in life. That people in their twenties may still act a bit young or don't feel like adults. I tend to observe others and capture what I see... so if I increase the age of my hero and heroine to their 30s, I think you may have solved my problem 'YA' problem as I will be hearing and seeing them at that age when I write! Thanks, Roz :)

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    1. Karen,
      It's good you can still use your experiences with younger people in YA books, or as siblings maybe your main characters in adult romance are left to deal with. One thing I like about romance books is that there's room for all ages in showing kids, babies, parents, grandparents and the occasional Octogenarian. Aren't we lucky?

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    2. I too look at 20-somethings and see something totally different these days then when I was in my early twenties. I have friends who are 25-28 and no offence to them, but they are very immature at times and are still figuring out their lives, so I think I tend to try to put my characters in their thirties, just because the life experiences they would have had at that age helps to 'age' them. In my second book, my heroine is a bit younger and yeah, at first she was reading a little YA as well, but like you, it was what I'd experienced someone that age to act like...In the future, I'll probably stick to the older end of the spectrum-seems to work best for me:)

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  7. Great post, Roz. If you go further back, there also was pressure from rich families upon their children to make alliances and join fortunes through marriage. And in poorer countries a groom could buy a bride with a few goats. She had to be healthy to bear him children and continue the family line... preferably sons. Even kings repudiated their wives for not giving them sons. Love was not taken into consideration. It's a good thing family lines and fortunes are not such a concern anymore.

    Nowadays, even though marriage is not a priority, love has become the only reason to wed, and we should be thankful. Although love marriages do not seem as solid as money marriages. But it's a lot more fun to ride that roller coaster.

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    1. Vijaya, you are so right about money mergers being prevalent of old. Some still exist in the upper brackets I suppose---the country club set. And of course I mostly looked at what's happening in the U.S.
      But your notes work in Historical fiction for sure.

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  8. Hi, Roz! Your research is always so valuable to all of us! I don't know whether to be cheered or depressed by all that. It's wonderful, of course, that women no longer have to marry for reasons of economy or security, and that men can remain single if they want to. I just wonder what will happen to our future when all those smart young people spend much of their lives without learning all the give and take marriage teaches us. (Of course, the high divorce rate proves that a lot of couples don't get it anyway.) But having promised to be together and to learn to compromise, to forgive, to overcome, to maintain hope, teaches us to give - and to accept - like nothing else does. It'll be a sort of 'Dark Age' of romance if all that is lost.

    And - Karen. When my siblings were in their forties and fifties, they teased each other mercilessly! It''s a lifetime reflex. That criticism may be unfounded.

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    1. Muriel, I was depressed to think we may hit zero decline in 2042. But I've actually heard some of my kids' friends and even friends of my nephew's kids say, well, I'll get married but if it doesn't work out, I'll live on my own. What kind of an approach to marriage is that? We need to teach commitment I think.

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  9. Hi Roz, I have tried for years to write older heroines and what I have been told is that it boils down to the buying power. What age are those buying books? That is the age publishers want. Has nothing to do with how old women are when they marry. What's your take on that?

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  10. Sandra, I haven't seen any research data on that, but it could be. I believe teens have the most buying power now, and look at the upsurge of YA books in all genres. It's true they buy most of the music now, too. Maybe with so many writers publishing those hard-to-sell books on their own, you will see more variety.

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  11. Great topic, Roz! Based on the women I know-I think many of them SHOULD wait until they are a little more 'settled' before getting married.

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  12. Jen, So maybe the wrong ones are waiting. The ones seeking more education who are already more mature are waiting. The thinking group. Hm, something to consider there.

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  13. Roz, this is fascinating! I'm curious whether marrying later in life tends to make couples MORE happy (because they've grown into their true selves by then) or LESS (because they're not used to compromising).

    Seems like you could make a case for either way...which, come to think of it, might be handy for setting up both the conflict and the happy ending. :)

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  14. Laurie, great point. I'm going to have to look for Rebecca Traister's book due out in 2014 about unmarried women, or maybe read Stephanie Coontz's full book. I skimmed it only. I tend to think the reason why people get married at any age might be a factor in how well they work at keeping the marriage together.

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  15. Interesting post, Roz! I think there's less pressure for women to have children than there was before.

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  16. Shelley, I think so too, but I've seen stats that show there is an upsurge of women deciding they can raise a child alone and without a husband/father. That's a trend that again speaks to women waiting until they have good jobs and maybe a home of their own before they think about wanting a child. The jury is out as to whether it's a wise decision. We'll probably know in 18 years when these kids decide what they want to do with their lives.

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  17. Roz, I'm a big fan of "unconventional" romances, so I would definitely pick up a book that featured "older" heroes/heroines.

    As for me, I didn't find my husband until I was almost 38. In fact, I figured that I'd never find him and gave up looking. Wouldn't you know that's when he found me? LOL. I was more mature and finally knew who I was as a person which was important before I entered into a lifetime relationship.

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  18. Syndi, what a great story. I used to love an old line of romances called Second Chance At Love. They featured older couples, but most were single for a second time. So often it's when someone gives up looking that they stumble into the right person. Not sure about the online dating services, but I know people who have used them with success, too. What keeps us in business is that almost everyone is looking for love whether or not they'll admit it.

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    1. Roz, yes I think that most people are craving more love in their lives. The internet and social media helps us connect to more people than before, but those close intimate relationships seem to become more rare. I think that's another reason romance novels are the bestselling genre!

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