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?