In a survey of over 1200 adolescents, 95% of them said that they would get married some day.1 But, I’m willing to bet that they weren’t ready to get married at the time they answered that question. Why? Likely because they’re young, and when you’re young it feels like you have a million things to take into account before you make a major life decision like getting married. In this post I discuss four things that people take into consideration when deciding whether or not to get married.
One of the major factors that young adults (i.e., those in their teens to mid-20s) take into consideration when deciding whether or not to get married is money. Not yet being financially secure is one of the primary reasons people wait to get married.2,3,4,5,6 For example, in a study of more than 2000 people, participants said that they would put off marriage until they could afford to throw a wedding they’d be happy with.4 People want to be able to have steady income coming in, debts paid down, and money saved up before they marry. The focus on financial security is a great goal: couples who spend beyond their means on an engagement ring and wedding aren’t as likely to succeed as couples who are more financially responsible.7
2 and 3. Age and Life Experiences
Some people want to wait to get married because they think they’re too young and not yet mature enough to make such a big commitment.8 Another reason why people want to wait until they’re older is because they’ll have more life experiences. Many people want to get married eventually, but they want to complete some key life goals first, such as graduating from college and buying a own home.2,3,6,8 Experiencing life-goals before settling down is a good way to learn about oneself – such experiences help individuals identify their priorities and values before embarking on a new relationship or the next step in a relationship.
4. Viable Marriage Prospects
Once individuals are financially stable and know more about themselves and what they are looking for in a partner, it helps to have viable prospects around. Thus, another factor people take into consideration when thinking about marriage is whether there appear to be (m)any marriageable prospects available. For example, in one study researchers asked women what they were looking for in a partner.3 The women indicated that they were looking for someone who was financially stable, willing to commit, and emotionally secure. Unfortunately, the women in the study felt like they knew very few people in their community who fit the bill. As a result, they said that they would rather be on their own than make a mistake and marry the wrong person. Getting married only to later get divorced is a fear that many people share.3,9,10
In sum, there are a variety of factors that young adults take into consideration before taking the plunge. The factors noted above represent just a few of the considerations involved in this major life decision. Much less is known about older adults (particularly those who are aged 50+) and the factors that they consider when deciding to get married. However, with the number of older adults increasing, I think researchers are going to know a lot more soon. With this research in mind, what kinds of factors do you take into consideration before taking the plunge?
TL;DR: Young people often want to be financially stable and ready to get married before doing so.
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1Manning, W. D., Longmore, M. A., & Giordano, P. C. (2007). The changing institution of marriage: Adolescents’ expectations to cohabit and to marry. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69, 559-575.
2Edin, K., Kefalas, M. J., & Reed, J. M. (2004). A peek inside the black box: What marriage means for poor unmarried parents. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66, 1007-1014. doi:10.1111/j.0022-2445.2004.00072.x
3Harris, D. A. & Parisi, D. (2008). Looking for “Mr. Right” The viability of marriage initiatives for African American women in rural settings. Sociological Spectrum: Mid-South Sociological Association, 28, 338-356.
4Hewitt, B., & Baxter, J. (2012). Who gets married in Australia? The characteristics associated with a transition into first marriage 2001–6. Journal of Sociology, 48, 43-61. doi:10.1177/1440783311411957
5Hunter, E. (2012). Creating meaning in engagement: Gender, heterosexuality, and commitment to marriage. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University at Albany, State University of New York, USA.
6Smock, P. J., Manning, W. D., & Porter, M. (2005). ‘Everything’s there except money’: How money shapes decisions to marry among cohabitors. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67, 680-696. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2005.00162.x
7Francis, A. M., & Mialon, H. M. (2014). ‘A diamond is forever’ and other fairy tales: The relationship between wedding expenses and marriage duration. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2501480 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2501480
8Sassler, S. (2004). The process of entering into cohabiting unions. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66, 491-505.
9Gibson-Davis, C. M., Edin, K., & McLanahan, S. (2005). High hopes but even higher expectations: The retreat from marriage among low-income couples. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67, 1301-1312. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2005.00218.x
10Waller, M. R., & Peters, H. E. (2008). The risk of divorce as a barrier to marriage among parents of young children. Social Science Research, 37, 1188-1199. doi:10.1016/j.ssresearch.2008.05.010
Dr. Lisa Hoplock – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Lisa’s research examines how personality traits like self-esteem and attachment influence interpersonal processes in ambiguous social situations — situations affording both rewards and costs — such as social support contexts, relationship initiation, and marriage proposals.