Oct 162002
Authors: Nicole Davis

Marriage- it is the ultimate commitment.

And young people today are waiting longer than ever to take their wedding vows.

The age of first marriage among Americans has been continually pushed later into life over the years, said Jerry Bigner, professor of Marriage and Family Relations at CSU.

The average age at which people first marry has increased from approximately 18 years old to 23 years old for women and 21 years old to 27 years old for men.

Bigner suggests that the primary reason people are delaying marriage until later in life has to do with economics.

Traditionally marriage was an institution based on gender roles, said Bigner. But after WWII women entered the work force and were no longer as dependent upon marriage for economic stability.

Now women graduates outnumber men, and trends show that both men and women want to establish their careers before they get married, according to ” The State of our Unions: The Social Health of Marriage in America 2001″ by Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and David Popenoe.

“Both young men and women are likely to define their economic lives and futures in individual terms rather than as part of a marriage relationship,” said Whitehead and Popenoe in their report.

Bigner said that he has personally seen this change occur from the time that he graduated from the University of Georgia in 1966 to the present.

“What we saw back then was that girls came to college to get an Mrs. Degree,” he said. “It was a great place to find a marriage partner and a lot of people were engaged or married by the time we were seniors.”

Bigner said that some women even felt they had failed if they did not find a husband by the time they graduated, but this ideology has changed dramatically among college students.

“While people are still getting married and engaged in college it is not as important or pressured as it was back then,” he said. “People seem to be wanting to take their time with that now. They want to develop their degrees first.”

They are also taking the time to make sure that they have found the right person.

More than ever people are looking for a soul mate, even if it takes a while.

“You have to find the perfect girl,” said Paul Bremer a 23-year-old senior majoring in restaurant and resort management. “You have to constantly date, and wait until you feel a desire to treat that girl with so much respect that you don’t want to mess anything up.”

In fact, 92 percent of unmarried single adults surveyed agree that a person’s spouse should be their soul mate.

“Young adults today are searching for a deep emotional and spiritual connection with one person for life,” said Whitehead and Popenoe in their report.

However, Bigner said that he thinks many people have very unrealistic expectations about what marriage will provide them.

“People think that marriage is going to give them everything, but it cannot do that,” he said. “People change as they get older. We accept that. You can fall out of love.”

Mike Naveau, a 24-year-old sophomore majoring in history, also does not believe in the idea of soul mates.

“I used to think there was one person for everyone,” he said. “I used to believe in fate, but now I know that there is no perfect girl.”

The high risk of divorce has also caused the shift to later marriage.

“As one might expect, the generation that grew up in the midst of the divorce revolution also worries about the risk of divorce,” said Whitehead and Popenoe in their report.

Bigner said that the median length of a first marriage in America is seven years with the divorce rate for first marriages set at about 50 percent. He said, however, that this high divorce rate is not a result of an increase in unhappy marriages, but instead can be attributed to the fact that divorces are more socially acceptable now.

“Divorce is no longer stigmatized like it used to be,” he said. “It used to be if you were a woman with children and you got divorced you were used baggage. No one wanted you.”

Despite such a high rate of failure, Whitehead and Popenoe’s report suggests that a majority of people are not entering into marriage expecting a divorce. Instead they are taking longer to commit in an effort to increase chances of a successful marriage.

Cohabitation before marriage, now common among modern men and women, is a practice that at one time was considered socially unacceptable.

“Single men and women in their twenties see cohabitation as a way to investigate a prospective partner’s character, habits, and capacity for fidelity before marriage,” said Whitehead and Popenoe in their report.

Even though most young adults plan to marry at some point, many students have not even begun the search for a spouse.

“(Relationships) are good, but not socially when you are 20,” said Jaret Ruscio a 19-year-old open option sophomore. “If you are that close with someone you don’t go out that much. You don’t experience college life.”

Krista Wilson, a 19-year-old sophomore majoring in psychology agreed.

“If you meet the right person (relationships) are great but otherwise have fun,” she said. “I figure by the time I graduate I’ll probably have met someone, but I’m not searching for it.”

-Edited by Dustyn Connelley and Josh Hardin

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