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Marrying Young

Marrying Young

While marriage rates continue to plummet, my son, 22, is bucking the trend and marrying his 21-year-old bride.

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In a few weeks our youngest son will be married. Ben is not yet 23; his bride-to-be is 21. In previous generations this fact would be completely unremarkable. But because Ben and Rivka are so young, they are bucking trends in nearly all Western cultures.

Marriage rates continue to fall in every demographic in the U.S. In 1960, the year I was born, about 72 percent of all people in the U.S. were married. By 2012, the rate of married households fell to 50.5 percent, according to a recent Pew Research survey based on U.S. Census data. Also in 1960, only one-tenth of adults aged 25 or older had never been married. Now the number of never-marrieds in the same age group has doubled to one in five, or about 42 million people.

These trends are concerning but not surprising. In my lifetime I have watched society try to beat much of the respect, stature and allure out of traditional marriage. TV shows, movies and books emphasize the single life as a fun and sexy, if sometimes lonely adventure. Marriage is often portrayed as a stifling and enervating prison, unless it is between a same-sex couple, in which case it is usually seen as a beautiful and happy union. In our ego-driven culture, where the most popular and must-have electronic companions begin with the letter "I," people have been conditioned to think of their 20s and sometimes even their 30s as decades meant for personal exploration, incompatible with building a life with another person.

Of course, marriage isn't easy. As Groucho Marx quipped, "I think marriage is a wonderful institution. But who wants to live in an institution?" Apparently, plenty of people do. In fact, divorced people usually remarry, often quickly. Marriages are living things and need consistent nurturing. Sometimes, despite the best efforts of both people, the marriage dies. But often, the best efforts of both people yield something beautiful, something transcendent, which enriches not only them but also their children, friends and community. The hard-won emotional intimacy and shared personal achievements are the fruits of happy and enduring marriages.

Marriage Benefits

Young people who view marriage with skepticism and fear ought to think again, because there is plenty of hard evidence pointing to its many benefits. For one, married people usually have stronger financial profiles than the unmarried. And with the current focus on income inequality, it is alarming that people with only a high school education are dropping off the marriage radar screen faster than other groups. A New York Times article from February 6, 2015 quoted researcher Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution in Washington, who observed, "There are relatively few relationships that are more fully documented than those between economic well-being and marriage. . . It's a plain fact that people who are married have more income, wealth and savings that last into their retirement."

Money aside, there is the happiness issue. Most studies find that married people are happier and more fulfilled over the long-term than the unmarried. Some ask which came first: a happy and well-adjusted person who was more likely to marry in the first place, or a marriage that made someone happy? Individual happiness involves many factors of course, but according to W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and the co-author of "Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Twentysomething Marriage," young marriage and happiness do go together given the right circumstances. In a recent column he wrote for the Washington Post, Wilcox cited a University of Texas study affirming that the highest-quality unions were forged by couples who married in their mid- to late 20s.

“Marrying in your twenties makes it more likely you’ll marry someone without a complicated romantic or family history,” Wilcox wrote. “It also makes it more likely you’ll marry someone with a similar educational level and religious faith. There is more of a sense of ‘we-ness’ and partnership than ‘me-ness.’ Marrying earlier than the mid-20s is associated with markedly higher divorce rates unless the couple attends religious services together. In that case, they can navigate the challenges of marriage and family with a lot of community support.”

Other benefits of a 20-something marriage include a more active and satisfying intimate life, which is strongly linked to marital happiness; the ability of women to become pregnant more easily; and for men, more stability overall, measured by drinking less, working harder and out-earning their single peers, Wilcox observed.

I suspect that more young women are beginning to realize that it’s a mistake to wait too long to marry, despite what their sociology professors say. A TED talk aimed at 20-somethings given by Meg Jay, the author of “The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now,” has garnered 6.9 million views. In it she relates the tale of a young woman who said, “The best boyfriend I ever had was in my mid-twenties. I just didn't think I was supposed to be [married] with someone then." Wait too long, in other words, and your best potential mate may have married someone else.

For all these reasons, my husband and I will walk our son to the chuppah with hearts filled with joy, love and pride. Ben and Rivka are embracing the Jewish ideal of unwavering commitment to one life partner. They understand that their greatest possible happiness, self-actualization, and potential for spiritual achievements are most likely through the conscious, quiet daily acts of love and giving they will do for one another as husband and wife.

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Visitor Comments: 29

(18) Michael, April 26, 2015 6:08 AM

Good for some

The author of this article talks like it's the fault of people who don't marry young. At 35, I have spent most of my 20's and 30's 'available' and all my effort at putting myself out there has amounted to nothing. I suggest the author counts herself as very lucky rather than passing judgement. Even better, try to do something constructive.

Judy Gruen, June 15, 2015 9:31 PM

I do feel lucky indeed

Michael, I do not "fault" anyone who is still single in his or her 30s but who would rather be married. The fault I alluded to is that of the broader society, whose entertainment and "me" culture has served to diminish the value of marriage, and that has influenced a lot of young people. I feel extremely fortunate. And I wish you every success in finding the person who is right for you.

(17) Anonymous, April 15, 2015 3:29 PM

First, Mazal tov! On a different note, REALLY?!

Silly article and "out of touch"! So it seems, the author brags about a son marrying at 23.Frankly, I don't think marriage or children should be bragged about. They are life choices and happen in the right time,Hashem’s time. Save the bragging when/if your son stays married (getting married is easy, especially when our parents pay for it, staying married is the real challenge! Having babies? Also the easy part for most, raising fine individuals is the hard part). I married young, don't know if the author considers 25 young, but I do! I am in my late 20s now, BH happily married! Yes, it is true that young married couples are more likely to have higher income, but that is if they are BOTH educated (I am disregarding any financial help from parents here! My parents’ wealth is theirs, not mine! Not yet, anyways, bezrat Hashem, it stays that way!). A couple marrying at 21, is hardly done with undergraduate degree, which these days, is not much of a guarantee for financial stability. My husband and I are both young professionals and now in our late 20s, we are very blessed with stable careers and still young. But unfortunately, this is not the case for many of our friends in their 20s. I know couples who also married in their 20s- most either relying on parent’s financial support; or struggling financially. There are very few exceptions. So I hope your son is an exception, if not, I hope you are able to help them and not hurt your own retirement plans! May I also mention that financial worries also may contribute to divorce?!
Another flawed assumption is assuming that 20s don’t have fertility challenges. Women are most fertile at 16 or so; do you recommend that as well? Don’t brag,not yet! Your son may deserve the bragging when he is your age. I certainly don’t think my own parents should brag about me! But I hope to make them proud when I will be, please Gd, still in a happy marriage and family!To each his own! Good intentions with this article, but oh, so wrong!

Alan S., April 16, 2015 10:27 PM

Please take a breath...

Why find anything wrong with this article? How is this article 'out of touch"? Out of touch with what?? The author was not 'bragging'. She was talking about a well known current phenomena among most young people not marrying young for some of the reasons you mention. Her son and his bride has chosen a different path.

Keith, UK, April 19, 2015 3:14 PM

Total Agreement!

I fully agree with you Alan regarding the above response from "Anonymous". I can see nothing wrong with Judy's article whatsoever... in fact I found it quite refreshing and encouraging to promote the wonderful union of marriage as she has done here, especially when referring to young couples.
All the very best to Ben and Rivka.. May they have a truly blessed and wonderful life together.. Keith, UK :)

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