In 1950, the median ages for first marriages were 22.8 years old for men and 20.3 years old for women. As late as 1970, the median ages were 23.2 for men and 20.8 for women. And then those ages started rising, and they’re still going up. The figures as of 2013: 29 and 27, respectively.
What’s going on here? What does it mean? Those questions are raised in an important new study by the Census Bureau.
The study, entitled “The Changing Economics and Demographics of Young Adulthood: 1975–2016,” opens with a sobering conclusion: “What was once ubiquitous [for younger Americans’] during their 20s is now not commonplace until their 30s. Some demographers believe the delays represent a new period of the life course between childhood and adulthood, a period of ‘emerging adulthood.’”
The “delays” referred to by the study are not only those involving marriage and child-rearing, but also other hallmarks associated with what we used to call “growing up.”
As the report says, “In prior generations, young adults were expected to have finished school, found a job, and set up their own household during their 20s—most often with their spouse and with a child soon to follow.”
Now we’ve previously talked here on BreakPoint about declining labor force participation, so let’s take a closer look at the “setting up their own household” part. Forty years ago, more than half—57 percent—of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 lived with their spouse; only 26 percent lived with their parents.
Not anymore. Today, only 27 percent of that group live with their spouse; 31 percent live with their parents. Even if you add in the percentages of those living with unmarried partners or living alone, the number of 18-to-34-year-olds living independently is ten percentage points lower than the percentage of those living with their spouses just 40 years ago.
What’s more, they don’t seem to be in any sort of hurry to establish their households, much less have children. While more than 95 percent of those surveyed rated completing your education and getting a job as “extremely” or “somewhat” important, less than half said the same thing about getting married and having a child, and three quarters of these only rated marriage and child-rearing as “somewhat important.”
I repeat, this is consequential.
One obvious consequence is demographic. Delaying marriage means fewer children, which in turn means fewer workers to support an aging American population. It’s not working out well for Japan and China, and it’s not going to work out well for us, either.
Another consequence: fewer and smaller extended families. Fewer children will have cousins, and if trends continue, their children will have fewer aunts and uncles. The support and social capital generated by extended family networks will become a thing of the past. It’s fair to say that more and more of our elderly will become, by necessity, wards of the state.
Now are all called to marriage? Scripture and Christian history tell us clearly not. In fact, my colleague Gina Dalfonzo is releasing a book in June called “One by One,” which reminds us how vital singles are to the life of the Church. We have info about that at BreakPoint.org.
But for those not called to singleness, the command “be fruitful and multiply” is still in effect. It’s a command we ignore not only at our peril, but our future’s, as well.
2 Timothy 3King James Version (KJV)
3 This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,3 Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,4 Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;
18 And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass;19 I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.20 Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.21 And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.22 Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.
Matthew 24:37-39King James Version (KJV)
37 But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.38 For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark,