For Marriage or For Money: The Chicken or the Egg
Today young people in the United States are marrying later in life and less frequently compared to previous generations. In 2013 only 26% of people ages 18-32 were married. In 1997 the percentage of marriages among the same age group was 36%. In 1980 it was 48%.[i] This trend shows a stark decline in young adults wanting to be or become married.
One of the primary drivers for this declining trend in marriage for young adults is the articulated and growing need for economic stability and security.[ii] Young people today increasingly want to establish themselves financially, economically, professionally, or otherwise before taking on the burden and strain that a marriage may add. Research has shown that while most people desire or want to marry for love—economic security has become a “pre-requisite” for marriage.[iii] Thus while the hope and ideal for marriage remains strong, the catalyst and basis for its occurrence are changing.
Perhaps this trend is understandable as young people today face greater unemployment, less opportunity, higher debt, and greater poverty than previous generations. For example, in 2016, 41% of men aged 25-34 had an annual income of less than $30,000 yet in 1975 only 25% of men in this age group had a similar income.[iv] Simply put, because of the lack of economic stability, earning potential, or financial opportunity for young adults today, they are increasingly more likely to cohabitate or to remain at home with their parents than to marry or establish families of their own.
Ironically, marriage is seen and is statistically shown to foster economic growth for individuals. Consider the following median income statistics from 2016:[v]
These statistics demonstrate that those who are married or in lone-family households have a higher median wage than those who are in non-family households. One might argue that the increase in the median income at least for married couples is due in part to having more than one wage earner in the household. While true that having multiple wage earners increases the amount of total earnings for the household, those who are in family households tend to have a higher total income than those who are in non-family households.
For example, if you were to add the median income for female and male non-family households ($72,331), the married-couple median income ($87,057) is still almost $15,000 greater. Additionally, if you compare individuals by gender in family households to those in the non-family households, both genders show a remarkable increase in economic wealth and income for those in family situations.
The Washington Post published a fascinating article regarding the causes for the wage difference between single and married men.[vi] That article stated that at least some of the reasons why married men earn more than single men are as follows:
1) Marriage gives men a new identity and a family ethic to take on more serious roles as providers,
2) Married men are more motivated to maximize their incomes; they tend to work longer, harder, and to value higher paying jobs than their single counterparts,
3) Married men are encouraged to do better by their spouses who also have an economic interest in their husband’s success,
4) Employers tend to view married men with children as more responsible, dedicated, and less likely to leave; thus, they are given and rewarded with more opportunities.
Whatever the reasons, from a statistical argument, one is better off economically in marriage than not in marriage. Marriage offers many benefits that assist in economic stability, it allows for division of labor, economies of scale, employment opportunity, and for incentivizing long-term savings. Over time these tend to build more wealth for those who are in family situations.
Given these statistics—why do we want and demand economic security today to enter marriage tomorrow? What comes first—the chicken or the egg? Do we require a good paying job, a paid off house, a large retirement account to feel safe about our relational choices? Conversely what opportunity costs do we forgo by remaining single? These are the questions only we can answer.
Certainly, getting married is not a panacea for poverty, low wages, or increased job opportunity. It should not be entered solely for financial gain or the hoped-for economic boon. The failure of a marriage relationship can be even more devastating from an economic perspective than had the individuals not been married. And given the fragility of marriage today—its failure represents a real and substantial reality.
What we should ask ourselves though is this: What is my choice to stay single based on and what are the drivers that either allow me to become married or to delay or prevent it altogether. I hope these thoughts and statistics help in our decision-making processes.
You can find similar discussions and ideas about marriage and relationships in my book, The Greatest Worth: Finding Oneself in a Family Centric Faith. I hope you enjoy reading it.
MARCH SINGLES COMIC
[i] Gurrentz, Benjamin; Millenial Marriage: How Does Economic Security Matter to Marriage Rates for Young Adults; U.S. Census Bureau; SEHSD Working Paper #2018-09; April 2018
[v] Semega, Jessica; Fontenot, Kayla; Kollar, Mellisa; Income and Poverty in the United States: 2016; U.S. Department of Commerce
[vi] Wilcox, Brad; Don’t be a bachelor: Why married men work harder, smarter and make more money; Washington Post; April 2, 2015; https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2015/04/02/dont-be-a-bachelor-why-married-men-work-harder-and-smarter-and-make-more-money/?utm_term=.6198bab8938d