On marriage

I meant to write a really good post about this study contemporary marriage in the US.  Alas, I’ve been a bad blogger lately and Ezra did a great post on it, so just read his.  Meanwhile, David Frum says (rightly) that we need to stop worrying about gay marriage and concentrate on straight marriage.  He’s right.  As the new report documents, having children before marriage– especially for women– is generally not a very good idea.  I was especially intrigued by this ninth fact that Ezra shares:

9) Culturally, marriage has moved from “cornerstone” to “capstone”

“Culturally, young adults have increasingly come to see marriage as a ‘capstone’ rather than a ‘cornerstone’—that is, something they do after they have all their other ducks in a row, rather than a foundation for launching into adulthood and parenthood…Ninety-one percent of young adults believe that they must be completely financially independent to be ready for marriage, and over 90 percent of them believe they should finish their education before taking the big step. Fifty-one percent also believe that their career should be underway first. In fact, almost half say that it is ‘very important’ to work full-time for a year or two prior to getting married.”

Very true.  Of course, I know a lot of people who think this way and I think they’re wrong.  I’m not sure the data back me up– the evidence is clear that you make more money delaying marriage, but I think that is mostly a selection effect.  Those who are ambitious and take this “capstone” approach are the same ones who will make more money regardless of when they get married.  Lots of people thought Kim and I were nuts to get married at 22 as we headed into grad school semi-together (both at OSU, different PhD programs).  They were wrong.  Having a happy marriage was a great “cornerstone” for my grad school life and my young adulthood (and now, of course, middle adulthood). Would I have somehow been better off if I had “accomplished” my PhD before getting married?  Sure, some people obviously do get married too young.  But I’d argue that many get married too late.  Marriage should be a foundation upon which you build, not something you decide to do after you’ve met all these other arbitrary check boxes.  I know so many people who say things like “after I finish law school I’ll get married.”  If law school is hard and stressful, shouldn’t you want the support of a spouse?  Anyway, you should check out Ezra’s post and/or the original research.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

9 Responses to On marriage

  1. Deborah Ferry says:

    I think it all depends on the individuals involved. I, too, got married in grad school. The marriage ended sadly as my husband die at a young age. Still I do not regret getting married when I did, and I don’t think it has made any difference in my finances. By the way, I have remarried; but that marriage also drew consternation from some, as my second husband is disabled. We recently celebrated our 21st anniversary, so I don’t think the criticism was warranted.

  2. itchy says:

    I’m curious, what do you think would have been the difference had you waited until after your Ph.D. to get married? Would there have been any?

    (Aside: I’m sure we both agree that finding the right person is far more important than deciding the right time.)

    • Steve Greene says:

      I’m quite confident the marriage was to my psychological and financial benefit. There’s nothing like marriage to make a full commitment to both domains. I imagine we would’ve have gotten married after graduate school, yet felt less financially and less psychologically secure during the intervening 5 years all for a “capstone.” And, of course, I’m just an n of 1, but the research on the psychological and economic benefits of marriage are quite clear.

  3. Mike from Canada says:

    I agree with Steve on this. There are a lot of benefits in a marriage, a good marriage anyways, financial and psychological. I was married at 21, we lived together at 19, we’ve been together ever since for thirty plus years, so far.

    But I also have to agree that the person(s) have to be right. If only we could figure out how to tell who is right for someone else, then make sure both spouses act like adults for the rest of their lives. That no one is or becomes an alcoholic, or gets hooked on crack or gets dragged under a truck. It’s hard to judge the decision people make under these circumstances. I wouldn’t want to predict what I would do under similar circumstances.

    A lot of people have a kind of image in their mind of what a marriage is, I think for a lot of people it’s too idealized. A marriage is work, and a marriage with children is even more work. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for people to have their ducks in a row before they take the plunge.

    I also think the kind of skills needed for a successful marriage are many of the same needed for successful socialization and certain general job skills, like working well with others and negotiating. Skills that can be learned in preschool through early socialization.

  4. itchy says:

    My wife was married before she got her Ph.D. … but not to me.

    So, of course, I think waiting is far better! (Waiting for *me* is better still!)

    In truth, my gut does tell me that waiting is better, but I really can’t say why, so maybe it’s something I should re-examine. I don’t really have a reason. And if you meet the right person at 20, I can’t say why you shouldn’t get married. My aunt and uncle, now married 55 years, were high school sweethearts. On the other hand, my mother married at 18 to get out from under her parents’ roof, and would have divorced my father.

    I didn’t get married until I was 35, but, then, I didn’t meet my wife until I was 30, and until then I hadn’t found the person I wanted to marry.

    So I guess I’ve seen it both ways. Maybe it’s just a personality thing. I like to have things settled in one domain before changing another. But I can understand that the stability and support that comes from a good marriage can help you while you’re still “putting your life together.”

    As for kids, I more strongly feel a couple should wait until you are prepared to commit to parenting.

    • Steve Greene says:

      It just seems to me if you have found the right person, it is really absurd to put off marriage until; law school completion, job promotion, whatever. Get married. Now, if you haven’t found the right person, that’s an entirely different story. But you shouldn’t be oblivious to the right person because you haven’t achieved goal X yet. As for your last point, not in every case, but as a general rule, marriage before kids is clearly a very good idea for all involved.

    • Mike from Canada says:

      Some people spend their entire life trying to “put their life together”. I think a lot never do.

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