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Does Marrying Young Make A Marriage More Successful?

Two white gold rings. (
Jeff Belmonte

The leaders of the country's largest Protestant denomination have a message for millennials: get married already!

Over the past year, Southern Baptist leaders have encouraged churchgoers to get married young. The push comes in an effort to ensure more couples will be virgins on their wedding day. But does marrying young lead to happier marriages?

“We don’t know that getting married causes you to have a worse relationship,” says Duke University professor of public policy Christina Gibson-Davis. “But generally people who get married in their mid to late 20s do better than people who get married in their early 20s."

Host Frank Stasio talks with Gibson-Davis abouther study examining whether age is a key factor in a successful marriage. Gibson-Davis also shares the importance of other factors like income, education level and cohabitation in predicting the success of a marriage.

Gibson-Davis says those with more education, particularly bachelor’s degrees, are saying “I do” more often than those with only high school diplomas. The rate of divorce for individuals with a bachelor’s degree is lower than the rate for those with just a high school education.

“I’m more likely to get married, but I’m getting married older,” Gibson-Davis explains about the college graduates marrying more. “I’m getting my education out of the way, I might be starting my career and then I’m getting married.”

In conversation, many people cite the 50 percent divorce rate in America. Gibson-Davis says the figure is accurate but the number can widely vary among different demographics.

Along racial lines, African-Americans are less likely to get married and more likely to divorce. For the wealthy, there is roughly a 20 percent chance of divorce. Religious people divorce less than the non-religious.

Fewer people are getting married now, but that doesn’t mean there is any less love in the air.

“We’re falling in love at the same amount, but we’re not converting those unions into marriage,” Gibson-Davis says. “It looks very different than it used to.”

Though Gibson-Davis talks about all sorts of divorce rates and why people are marrying later, that's not to completely discredit marriage.

"There's no doubt marriage is a fragile institution, but it's a lot more stable than cohabiting," Gibson-Davis says.

In modern society, people are waiting in order to find the perfect spouse.

“With all the choices today, with internet dating, with the expanded dating pool, I no longer have to marry the guy next door because he’s the only guy I know,” Gibson-Davis says. “I can keep putting off looking for that perfect partner.

“It’s a consumerist society that says hold out until you find the perfect partner because you don’t want to settle for anything less than that.”

Hady Mawajdeh is a native Texan, born and raised in San Antonio. He listened to Fresh Air growing up and fell in love with public radio. He earned his B.A. in Mass Communication at Texas State University and specialized in electronic media. He worked at NPR affiliate stations KUT and KUTX in Austin, Texas as an intern, producer, social media coordinator, and a late-night deejay.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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