The average age of American men marrying for the first time is 28, up five years since 1970 and the oldest average since the Census Bureau started keeping track. Women are taking the first plunge into matrimony at an older age as well, and the age gap between spouses is narrowing. It was more than four years in 1890 and about 2.5 years in 1960. It's less than two years now.
I used to think that only a minority of young men lamented marriage as the death of youth, freedom and their ability to do as they pleased. Now this applies to women, too.
In my research on young adults' relationships, many women report feeling peer pressure against seriously thinking of marriage until they are at least in their late 20s. Actively considering marriage when you're 20 or 21 seems so sappy, so unsexy, so anachronistic. Those who do, fear to admit it - it's that scandalous.
How did we get here? The fault lies less with indecisive young people than it does with us, their parents. We advise our children to complete their education before even contemplating marriage, to launch their careers and become financially independent. We don't want them to rush into a relationship.
Our children now sense that marrying young may be not simply foolish, but wrong and socially harmful. And yet, as ever, marriage wisely entered into remains good for the economy and the community, for one's wellbeing, for wealth creation and for the environment, too.
This is not just an economic problem. It's also a biological and emotional one. Marriage will be there for men when they're ready. But according to the social psychologists Roy Baumeister and Kathleen Vohs, women's "market value" declines steadily as they age, while men's tends to rise in step with their growing resources. Women's fertility is more or less fixed, yet they largely suppress it during their 20s - their most fertile years - only to have to beg, pray, borrow and pay to reclaim it in their 30s and 40s.
There's at least one good statistical reason to urge people to wait on the wedding. Getting married at a young age remains the No. 1 predictor of divorce. So why on earth would I want to promote such a disastrous idea? For three good reasons.
First, the best evaluations of early marriage - conducted by researchers at the University of Texas and Penn State University - note that the age-divorce link is most prominent among teenagers. Marriages that begin at 20, 21 or 22 are not nearly so likely to end in divorce as many presume.
Second, most young women are mature enough to handle marriage. According to National Survey of Family Growth data, women at 18 have a better shot at making a marriage work than men who marry at 21. There is wisdom in a spousal age gap. For women, age is a debit, decreasing fertility. For men, age can be a credit, making them more attractive to women. We may all dislike this scenario, but we can't will it away.
Third, a young age at marriage can indicate an underlying immaturity and impatience with marital challenges - the kind that many of us eventually figure out how to avoid or to solve without parting. Unfortunately, well-educated people resist this, convinced that there is a recipe for success: add a postgraduate education to a degree, toss in career success and wealth, let simmer in a pan of sexual variety for several years, allow to cool and settle, then serve. Presto: a marriage with maths on its side.
Too bad that real life isn't like that. Marriage actually works best as a formative institution, not an institution you enter once you think you're fully formed. We learn marriage, just as we learn language, and to the teachable, some lessons just come easier earlier in life.
I realise marrying early means a shorter search. In the age of online dating, personality algorithms and matches, there is the cultural (and commercial) notion that melding marriage with science will assure a good fit. But what really matters are not matches, but mentalities: such things as persistent and honest communication, conflict resolution skills, the ability to handle the cyclical nature of so much of marriage, and a bedrock commitment to the union. I've met 18-year-olds who can handle it and 45-year-olds who can't.
There is an even more compelling argument against delayed marriage: the economic benefits of pooling resources. Marriage is an unbelievably efficient arrangement and the best wealth-creating institution there is. Married people earn more, save more and build more wealth than singles or those cohabiting.
Marriage may be bourgeois, but it's also the greenest of all social structures. Ecologists at Michigan State University estimate the extra households created by divorce cost the US 73 billion kilowatt hours of electricity a year. That is a mighty big carbon footprint created in the name of solitude.
While many young people mark their days by hitting the clubs, incessantly checking Facebook, and obsessing about their poor job prospects, my applause goes to those like Jennifer, a 23-year-old former student of mine getting married this year. It wasn't religion that made her do it or fear of being alone. It was simply affection. She met Jake while in college and decided there was no point in bar-hopping through her 20s. Her friends baulked. She stood firm. Now they're bridesmaids.
The Washington Post
Mark Regnerus is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin.