Millennials waiting longer to get married

Median age for first marriage about seven years later than in the 1950s.

Like most of her peers, 21-year-old Monica Medvedec wants to get married, just not anytime soon.

“I’ve been dating the same person for six years,” Medvedec said. “But, I feel as though marriage, having that piece of paper right away, it just isn’t important.”

Medvedec is part of a millennial generation that is waiting longer to get married.

The median age at first marriage for women has risen from around 20 in the 1950s to just over 27 today. For men, it rose from around 22 in the 1950s to just under 30 today, according to a report from the National Center for Family and Marriage Research (NCFMR) at Bowling Green State University.

Since 2000, the number of unmarried young people has risen in every state.

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In Ohio, 65 percent of those between the ages of 20 and 34 are unmarried, up from 47 percent in 2000, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Most young people still want to get married, however, and a long-term study shows a mostly positive attitude toward marriage continues to prevail.

An ongoing poll that began in 1976 has consistently shown that around 70 percent to 80 percent of high school seniors believe getting married is important, according to NCFMR. While Medvedec is no exception to that poll, she sees her post-college years as a time to focus on herself.

“My belief, and the belief of a lot of others, is that your early 20s is kind of a time to do that,” she said.

Medvedec represents a larger trend among young women. According to the most recent report on marriages from the Centers for Disease Control, the percentage of women likely to be married for the first time by age 25 dropped from 59 percent in 1995 to 44 percent in 2010.

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Daunting debt

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One of the reasons Medvedec is waiting on marriage is to get a jump start on her career. She is majoring in political science and considering law school at some point.

The high cost of education has led more young people to focus on finances, experts said.

“Their priorities are more centered around financial stability,” said Corey Seemiller, an assistant professor at Wright State who primarily studies Generation Z, the generation that follows millennials. “They’re incredibly worried about that.”

Not all millennials attend college, but those who do often leave with a daunting debt load. Ohioans leave college with an average debt of about $30,000, according to a report from the Institute for College Access and Success.

“They’re often in significant debt and saving up to establish a marriage right away just isn’t feasible,” said Jennifer Bulanda an associate professor at Miami University who teaches a course on aging and generational changes.

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That debt load is partially responsible for why college graduates — both men and women — tend to marry around two years later in life than the national median. The median marrying age for those with a college degree is just over 29 for women and around 31 for men, Bulanda said.

Jeff Reep, career services director at Cedarville University, 

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said he is seeing more students interested in pursuing graduate degrees, which often causes them to put off marriage even longer. More students are also beginning to take a few years off in between degrees, experts said.

“People are in the education system a lot longer now,” Bulanda said. “That’s a major change.”

Living arrangements

As young people become less likely to marry early, they’ve become more likely to live together before marrying.

From 1995 to 2013, the share of women between the ages of 25 and 29 who have been married decreased from 64 percent to 51 percent, according to the NCFMR. During the same period of time, cohabitation increased from 49 percent to 73 percent.

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“These trends have just changed our norms,” Bulanda said. “They’ve changed our cultural perspective of the right age (to get married).”

Ryan Competti, a 21-year-old Miami University student, said he would never marry someone without living with them first. If a couple is living together and the relationship doesn’t work out, he said, one of them can simply move out, making it an easier split than a divorce would.

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“It’s fun and it definitely takes it a step further,” he said of cohabitation, “but there’s still really no commitment there.”

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Studies also show more millennials are moving back in with their parents in hopes of saving money.

“I think there’s a lot more acceptance with going back home and living in mom’s basement,” Reep said. “Before, that was not even on the radar.”


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