It’s now marriage proposal season—the time between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day when nearly 40% of couples decide to get engaged. The holidays tend to put people in mind of marriage. So what’s the best age to put a ring on it?
It’s a question that weighs especially heavily on educated women, who find themselves caught between their career ambitions and pressure to settle down and start a family. The conventional wisdom is that they should get launched professionally in their 20s and wait until 30 or after to marry. Then they can establish themselves as independent adults before finding and pairing with an equally successful partner. This strategy is also supposed to maximize their odds of a lasting bond because the conventional wisdom also holds that early marriage increases the risk of divorce. The thinking goes that, if you wait until 30 or later to marry, you’re much more likely to have the maturity required both to make a good choice and to be a good spouse. The fact that the median age at first marriage for American women is now almost 29 (it’s 30 for men)—and higher still among those with at least a college degree—suggests that this view is widely held.
When it comes to divorce, the research has generally backed up the belief that it’s best to wait until around 30 to tie the knot. The sociologist Nicholas Wolfinger of the University of Utah found that women who got married “too early” (mid-20s or earlier) were more likely to break up than their peers who married close to age 30.
As we recently discovered, however, there is an interesting exception to the idea that waiting until 30 is best. In analyzing reports of marriage and divorce from more than 50,000 women in the U.S. government’s National Survey of Family Growth (NFSG), we found that there is a group of women for whom marriage before 30 is not risky: women who married directly, without ever cohabiting prior to marriage. In fact, women who married between 22 and 30, without first living together, had some of the lowest rates of divorce in the NSFG.
Continue reading in The Wall Street Journal . . .