A new study finds that the best time to get married is in your mid-twenties. Our 25-year-old arts editor, William Moore, explains why is marrying Hannah this weekend – and it has nothing to do with any pesky statistics.
“Aren’t you too young to get married?” It’s a question that’s been thrown my way a few times since I announced my engagement in December, aged 24. It is almost always asked out of curiosity rather than a desire to criticise, warn or mock, so I never mind answering.
It is now two days until the big event, and over the last few weeks my mind has often turned to the practical advantages of early nuptials. It is extremely pleasant, for instance, to be going through with it young enough to have two of my grandparents still alive and in good enough health to be there on the day. And being part of the first wave of friends to tie the knot has ensured that we avoid the crush of wedding-fatigued summers a few years down the line.
But these are fringe benefits. Different advantages would arise if we married later in life (clear career paths, economic stability — you know, the little things).
Now aged 25, Hannah and I are, one hopes, nowhere near halfway through our time on this planet — perhaps not even a quarter, if medical predictions are to be believed. Isn’t this far too early in our lives to be making such a large commitment? Wouldn’t it be better, more secure, if we waited?
Nicholas H Wolfinger, a psychologist at the University of Utah, thinks not. Earlier this month, using data collected by National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) between 2006 and 2010, he concluded that those who marry in their mid-thirties or later are now more likely to divorce than those who marry in their late twenties. “My analysis shows that prior to age 32 or so, each additional year of age at marriage reduces the odds of divorce by 11 per cent,” he wrote for the Institute for Family Studies. “However, after that, the odds of divorce increase by five per cent per year.”
Marriages that take place before the couple are 20 are the most likely to end in divorce: more than a third of them won’t last. But someone who marries at 25 is more than 50 per cent less likely to get divorced than someone who marries before 20. This trend continues until the couple reach their thirties. By the time they are in their mid-thirties the divorce rate creeps up again.
This is a new development. In the mid-Nineties the NSFG’s same survey suggested that the older couples were, the lower their risk of divorce. That no longer appears to be the case.
Moreover, Wolfinger insists that “additional tests revealed that the relation seems to function more or less the same for everyone: male or female, less or more educated, religious or irreligious, intact or non-intact family of origin, and limited versus extensive sexual history prior to marriage. For almost everyone, the late twenties seems to be the best time to tie the knot.”
Well that’s that, then. With the data on my side, it looks like my marriage is bound for smooth sailing. Generation Y has become Generation Y Not? while all those poor, co-habiting fools waiting long past 35 had better prepare themselves for a life of domestic hell straight out of Gone Girl. You can’t argue with the statistics, right?
No, you can and you should. The NSFG’s data is unhelpful for couples considering the niceties of their relationship and Wolfinger draws some pretty monocle-popping examples of conclusions from the survey. “My money is on a selection effect,” he writes, “the kinds of people who wait till their thirties to get married may be the kinds of people who aren’t predisposed toward doing well in their marriages.” A rather harsh bit of conjecture, one feels.
And what about the hot-headed Lydia Bennets of the world? The youngest Bennet sister in Pride and Prejudice married before she was 20. I’m not convinced, though, that Lydia’s problem was that she was young; it was that she had her priorities wrong. She wanted a dashing officer for a husband and to appear more grown-up than her older sisters and so confused flash-on-the-pan excitement for love. Lydia was just being Lydia. Those who marry the wrong person at 20 may well have made the same mistake at any age
One of my childhood friends started dating his wife when he was 18, became engaged at 21 and married at 24. He is, quite rightly, unfazed to have married before the statistical safety zone of the 25-29 bracket. “I knew that by marrying young I was opening myself up to the potential of more difficult years than I might have done had I played the field and married later,” he says, “but I honestly cannot imagine that there is another person out there with whom I could have a relationship of such depth, levity and support.
“By marrying young I have ensured that I get to spend more time with the person I love. I get more of the good times and, yes, I get more of the bad times — but in the end that means I get more of the whole person.”
Another friend entered wedlock when she was 21 and her husband was 30. “Our marriage works because of who we are not how old we were when we entered into it,” she says. “The best way to get married is to the right person, at the right time for both of you, for the right reasons, whether you’re 19 or 90.”
A colleague, who married at 28 after putting it off for several years, echoed her sentiment: “I was worried about marrying young so I waited. But now I wish I had done it earlier.”
So no, I don’t believe I’m too young to be married, but not because Wolfinger’s magic statistics happen to favour my age group. Hannah and I are marrying young because we are at the point in our lives and our relationship when it feels right.
We met at university in St Andrews, which often boasts that one in three graduates end up marrying another former St Andrews student, a statistic I scoffed at in my freshers’ week.
We first crossed paths in my third year in a student production of Romeo and Juliet. (This isn’t quite as romantic as it sounds: I played the Nurse. Also, it’s worth remembering that Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers were married for a grand total of five days.)
We were friends for a year before we started dating aged 21 and moved to London together after graduation, initially with other housemates and then eventually by ourselves. From early on in our relationship I knew that she was the woman I wanted to spend my life with.
After the first year or so we were talking about marriage but in a casual, sometime-when-we’re-much-older kind of way. Like, at 30 or some other unimaginably old age.
But now I’m at a time in my life when I know (more or less) what sort of a person I am and what kinds of things I like, but I also don’t feel so set in my ways that a spouse seems like someone I have to slot into my own life. I am excited to grow and develop and see where my life leads me with the person I love. As one of my friends put it: “You get married young enough and you effectively tailor yourselves to each other.” Eventually, in my own life, “why rush?” has become replaced by “why wait?”
On Saturday I will be standing in a 13th-century Sussex church dressed in the same morning suit my father wore for his wedding in 1981. He was also in his mid-twenties and he is still happily married to my mother. I can’t say exactly what will be going through my mind in these moments but I guarantee statistics and percentages won’t feature.