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Marriage age on the rise because of bevy of worries for young couples

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Rather than dreaming of love, commitment and a shared future, many couples today consider insurance bills, student loans and goodbye letters from single friends as the results of marriage.

The sparkle of starting a life together has faded for many young single adults, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Its data demonstrates a continued increase in first marriage ages starting in 1950, when the median first marriage age for men was 22.8 and woman was 20.3. Sixty years later, the ages have risen to 28.2 for men and 26.1 for women.

“We have a society that’s used to quick fixes, [but] marriage and love is a process,” said Guy Dorius, an associate professor of church history and doctrine. “Many of today’s youth bail out rather than sticking with it.”

The pattern holds true for Utah, too, despite its infamous propensity to wed. Data from the 2008 American Community Survey shows men in Utah marrying at a median age of 26 and women at a median age of 24.

“[Latter-day Saints] tend to lag about two or three years behind national trends,” said Brian Willoughby, a visiting assistant professor in the School of Family Life. “But we’re seeing the same general trend for the same kinds of reasons.”

According to Willoughby, one of those reasons is a shift in the time period marking young adulthood during the past few decades. 

“More people are going to college than ever before,” he said. “Early twenties are seen as a time of self-exploration and identification.”

Financial concerns, uncertainty about choosing the right companion and not wanting to sacrifice the single life are some of the reasons men might hesitate before taking the step toward marriage, Pres. Thomas S. Monson said during the most recent LDS semi-annual General Conference, in April.

However, young single adults may not be intentionally postponing the proposal. They just have other things to finish first. 

“People aren’t consciously saying they want to get married at 25 or 26, they’re just making other things a priority,” Willoughby said.

Thoughts of the responsibilities attached to marriage can reach nightmarish levels for some young single adults. Losing parental financial support leaves them picking up the tab for expenses such as tuition, various insurance agencies, rent and food. This also limits recreational funds.

“I just know that I’m never going to highlight my hair again for like 10 years after I get married,” said Holly Walker, a sophomore majoring in English language. “It’s too expensive.”

Between an increasingly competitive market and the recent economic recession, some emerging adults feel pressure to gain more education before entering the workforce.

“[It’s a] success-driven culture,” Dorius said. “Our kids are under the gun, and marriage is viewed as a barrier.”

Even students at BYU, known by some as the dating capital of the world, are hesitating before marriage.

“I feel people are scared because it is a huge commitment and there are so many responsibilities that come with being married,” said Brady Ridge, a sophomore from Muncie, Ind., in an email. “It is easier to not get married and in some ways it might seem more fun.”

The transition to paying rent for an apartment, funding growing grocery bills and possibly losing financial support from parents are some reasons why marriage is being delayed, Willoughby said.

“There’s a perception of how much money does it take to get married,” he said. “In this economy for a lot of people, it might take an extra year or two to get to that [perception] point.”

The only money really necessary for marriage is about $50 to buy the license, he said.

Another possible factor for the general increase in first-marriage ages is concern about choosing the right spouse.

“More pronounced in the LDS culture [is] a lot of anxiety about wanting to have a good marriage,” Willoughby said. “They’re not just picking for a little bit, but for time and all eternity. [There’s] more pressure on that decision.”

Along with extra pressure, LDS youth may be responding to the rising divorce rate.

“They’re scared to death of marriage, they’ve witnessed the pain of divorce,” Dorius said. “They’re scared to death the same thing will happen to them.”

Although fear of divorce, other priorities and added responsibility may be pushing up the first-marriage ages among LDS youth, Utah and Idaho hold the title of the top two states with the greatest percentages of households that are married-couple families. As areas dense with Latter-day Saints, this may indicate that LDS singles still see marriage as important.

According to the 2009 American Community Survey, Utah’s households are 62.2 percent married-couple families and Idaho’s are 57 percent. Both numbers are significantly higher than the country’s overall 49.7 percent.

“The biggest thing is to not worry about the trends,” Willoughby said. “A lot of students are so caught up in what’s happening with everyone else in the U.S. and BYU — the principle here is, in your personal life, to prioritize marriage and prioritize the type of dating that’s going to lead to eternal marriage … the Lord does the rest and puts it on his timetable.”