Decades ago, it was much more common for young couples to wed than it is today. Ancient Romans married at 14. In the 1950s, 19 was the median age for a young man to settle down. In 1962, half of all 21-year-olds had been married at least once.
Sixty years later, that number has dropped to 8%. Past generations were almost all tied down in their twenties. Contrast that to 2021, when the average age of marriage in the United States was 33 years old.
So what changed? Why are we postponing what’s supposed to be the happiest day of our lives?
In short, everything. Technology alone has transformed courtship. Instead of standing in your parents’ kitchen waiting for the landline telephone to ring, you can constantly communicate with your partner on cell phones, laptops, and tablets.
With all that contact, couples could learn that their lover isn’t as dreamy as they initially imagined.
Culturally, the stigma of divorce has also changed. Splitting up before "death do you part" has become more socially acceptable, and it’s not unusual to have a second or even third marriage.
Sexuality is another major shift. It used to be that your wedding night was the first time you got in bed together. Today, it’s less and less common to wait until marriage for intimacy. Sex isn’t an incentive to speed up the engagement anymore.
Not only that, but gender roles have evolved. The traditional view of women as homemakers has been replaced by a college degree and career opportunities. There is no longer an automatic expectation that everyone wants children. Many women put off marriage to pursue their other ambitions.
In this article we're going to explore all the possible consequences of getting married at a young age:
- Why Do Marriage Age Limits Exist?
- Pros & Cons of Marrying Young
- Downsides Of Early Marriage
- How To Know If You’re Ready To Get Married
- Signs You Aren’t Ready to Get Married
- Final Thoughts
Why Do Marriage Age Limits Exist?
Nearly every country has enacted age minimums for marriage. If you’re young and in love, this might feel oppressive and pointless. But the reality is that governments are trying to protect human rights.
Child marriage is a practice in many cultures that humanitarian groups protest. Girls who marry before age 18 are more likely to suffer domestic violence and less likely to remain in school. Getting pregnant at an early age can also lead to complications that harm young children.
As a result, laws have been established to prevent child marriage.
If you are underage and want to enter into marriage, there are workarounds. In the U.S. for example, some states allow adolescents to wed as young as age 15 with parental consent. This trend is declining; however, recently, both New York and New Jersey have ended similar policies. But there may be a good reason for this.
What the Experts Say
While various factors lead to divorce, underage marriage is correlated with a higher divorce rate. Studies have shown that nearly half of all couples who marry before age 18 wind up separated.
This is significantly higher than in older adults, where the rates drop to 10% divorce risk.
Not only can your marriage suffer, but your personal development can take a hit, too. Experts have found that married teens are 50% more likely to drop out of high school and four times less likely to earn a college degree.
They are also at higher risk of poverty than their peers who marry later in life. These sobering statistics might be part of the reason your friends and family pause before offering their congratulations on your young engagement.
Pros & Cons of Marrying Young
Despite the naysayers, getting married young can be the right choice for many couples. Here are the advantages posed by an early marriage:
No more heartbreak
Skip the breakup songs and ride off into the sunset with your one true love. When you say “I do,” you also say “I don’t” to the dating pool. No one likes getting their heart broken, and getting married is the fastest way to stop suffering through bad first dates. The earlier you wed, the fewer relationships you end.
At the end of the day, you are the only person who knows if a young marriage is right for you.
Less pressure to start a family
Another perk of early marriage? Less pressure to start a family. Unless you’re looking to adopt, marriage can be seen by some people as a race against the biological clock. Older adults are likely to feel more rushed into starting a family than a young woman might.
Knowing that you can slow down and take your time will help you feel fully prepared whenever you do decide to have kids. Even if you don’t want young children, the societal expectation to be fully established by a certain age will look much further away for newlyweds in their late teens.
Changing your relationship status from single to married can also mean a financial bump. If you and your spouse are both gainfully employed, combining your finances often translates to an overall higher income that will boost both your bank accounts.
Even with added taxes like the marriage penalty, many couples are looking at double the take-home pay after making it official. Getting started early can make it easier to buy a house or build the lifestyle you want sooner.
Downsides Of Early Marriage
Lack of maturity
It might not feel this way now, but for a young person, there is a significant lack of maturity in comparison to older adults. This can cause you to ignore red flags in the person you’re dating before making them your life partner. When you feel like love is all you need, you’re more willing to overlook any major differences in values and lifestyle between you two.
Without the maturity that comes with life experience, you could also find it more difficult to compromise and handle conflict in a healthy way. All of this can end up hurting your long-term chances of having a successful marriage.
Loss of freedom
Walking down the aisle at an early age also translates to a significant loss of freedom. Being in your early twenties is a time for exploration and self-discovery. When your life is merged with your spouse’s before that happens, you may find it harder to form your own identity outside of the relationship.
Once you put that ring on your finger, it’s not all about you anymore. You aren’t as free to travel on a whim, move to a different city, or take big risks. A married individual has to factor in how their actions will affect their spouse. A single person doesn’t have this burden.
Risk of growing apart
Young spouses may also find themselves at a higher risk of growing apart over time. When you marry in your late teens, you don’t know yourself nearly as well as you do in your early 30s.
A couple who shares all the same interests in high school might feel that they are married to a different person entirely ten years down the road. Moving to new cities, meeting new friends, and starting new careers all influence the kind of people we become. Young couples can grow together or grow apart.
How To Know If You’re Ready To Get Married
Even if you’re head over heels in love with your partner, how do you know if you’re ready for the commitment of marriage? Here are some sure signs that you should take the next step:
You know that you’re compatible
Whether it’s a religious tradition, gender roles, or family structure, your values and things that matter to you align. As easy as it is to think that sharing a taste in music or movies is good enough, the deeper viewpoints are what count in a serious relationship. If you feel that you see eye to eye on important beliefs, consider it a sign that you’re moving in the right direction.
You've dated for ages
Getting married at a young age doesn’t always mean a quick engagement. It’s a good sign that you’re ready for more if you’ve dated long enough to really know each other. Anyone can be on their best behavior for a few months. If your relationship hasn’t been tested by time, you might be rushing into something with a person you don’t truly know.
It takes years of dating to see all the different sides of someone. If you’re going to unearth personality traits you dislike, you should try to do it before the wedding bells ring.
You've tackled the difficult conversations
One way couples in a serious relationship lower their divorce risk is by tackling tough topics before the wedding. If you have had hard conversations with your partner, you’re in a better position to have a successful marriage. How many kids do you want? Do you plan to invest for retirement, or will you rely on social security?
It might feel uncomfortable, but opening the door to these kinds of questions now can save you from a difficult divorce later. If you and your partner have already talked through these divisive subjects and are on the same page, there’s a good chance you’re ready for marriage.
Signs You Aren’t Ready to Get Married
People are always going to have an opinion about your life choices. But if getting everyone to approve of your partner is really that important to you, it might be a sign that you aren’t ready for marriage.
You're looking to others for answers
Seeking excessive validation about your relationship can signal that deep down, you feel unsure about it yourself. On the other hand, if a friend or family member is expressing valid concerns about the way you’re being treated, pay attention. This could be a warning sign that you’re involved in an unhealthy dynamic.
At worst, you might even be at risk of domestic violence if you go through with the marriage. Either way, if other people’s opinions are catching your attention, that’s a red flag.
You're more looking forward to the party
Many people grow up dreaming of their wedding day. The flowers, the bridesmaid dresses, and the first dance all feel so romantic. But if you’re engaged and you find that you are more focused on planning the party than your future together, you might want to rethink things.
Imagine growing old together. Going through good times and bad, gaining weight, and losing hair. Do you still feel the same way about this person? If not, there’s a good chance you’re seeing the wedding as the end goal instead of the marriage. You might want to pump the brakes on booking a venue and reevaluate your relationship status.
You feel pressured
One reason people get divorced is that they rush into marriage for the wrong reasons. When you’re putting on that ring, you should feel excited and confident in your decision. It is a huge warning sign if you feel pressured into marriage.
If you want to get a marriage license, that choice should be made freely by you alone. Whether it’s your future spouse or a family member, anyone who is trying to push you into making a serious commitment before you are truly ready does not have your best interests at heart. If you’re entering into marriage for anyone other than yourself, reconsider before you get stuck in a tough situation.
At the end of the day, you are the only person who knows if a young marriage is right for you. Talk to friends and family, ask questions, and keep learning more about your partner. But when it comes down to it, your gut holds the answer.
If you don’t feel completely ready for an early marriage or are too young for legal marital status, the good news is love has no age limit. Take your time, and don’t rush into anything. Your wedding day will be here before you know it.