Should we bring back young marriage?


teenage-marriageThe following comes from a May 24 story in Catholic World Report.

Marrying young isn’t for everyone, but there are good reasons it should be considered.

How controversial is the idea of marrying young? Just ask Julia Shaw. When her essay on early marriage, “Marry Young: I got married at 23. What are the rest of you waiting for?” appeared at Slate April 1, not only did it provoke a number of angry, personal comments, but one reader even tracked down Shaw’s work number to call and yell at her.

The general thought in society today is that marriage should be delayed to allow for greater maturity and until the parties are “established.” Some argue, however, that there are compelling reasons to reconsider young marriage, including biological reasons.  But for young marriage to be successful, other things about the way marriage is prepared for, viewed, and treated by society at large must also be revisited.

Shaw, who did not write the Slate article’s headline or subhead, said she was shocked by the volume and intensity of the reaction to the piece.  There has also been a lot of positive responses to the story, she said, from readers who found the story thought-provoking as well as from other young marrieds who said they could relate to what Shaw had to say.

Shaw wrote the essay to encourage readers to take a fresh look at young marriage. “To be sure, marrying right is more important than marrying young,” said Shaw, research associate and program manager for the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics at the Heritage Foundation.  “I’m not advocating that you should marry at some arbitrary age: in fact, I say that I’m against artificial timelines.  But the problem I see nowadays—at least in my peer group—is not too many 19 year-olds marrying.  The problem…is people [are] arbitrarily delaying marriage because they haven’t met certain personal and professional milestones—and that’s not a good reason.”

There can be no doubt that greater maturity and being “established” make a difference in terms of aiding successful marriage.  The average age for first-time marriage is at an all-time high—27 for women and 29 for men—and is widely credited with lowering divorce rates.

“I think there is a case to be made for 20-something marriage,” said Dr. W. Bradford Wilcox, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Virginia and director of the National Marriage Project . “There is a strong body of evidence that those who marry in their teens are much more likely to get divorced than anybody else.”  Wilcox stressed that the research on age and marriage is suggestive, not definitive.

However, there is reason to think that it is not the age of marriage that is key, but rather pushing against the current trend of adolescence continuing into the late 20s, while fostering greater support from larger family and community.

Father Michael Orsi, former director of the Office of Family Life for the Diocese of Camden, NJ, said he believes 18-26 is a good age range for marriage, with the male ideally being at the higher end of the age range. According to Orsi, to delay marriage is to frustrate nature. “Your body is telling you at a certain age that you are ready for a relationship with the opposite sex,” he said in an interview with Catholic World Report.

Along these lines, there are also health and practical matters to consider.  The biological clock is ticking for women and men alike, as “men and women who wait are more likely to have kids who have disabilities or some other type of challenge,” said Wilcox. “There are links between men’s age and autism in the child.” As a result of men and women marrying later, some of them have had to enlist medical or technological help in order to achieve pregnancy, with sometimes dubious results.

Christians and social scientists aren’t the only ones starting to question the status quo. In an article last year in The New Republic, science editor Judith Shulevitz described fertility treatments she underwent in her late 30s. She eventually gave birth to a child with developmental delays and, during visits to therapists, noticed that the majority of the other mothers there were also older.  After doing some research, she concluded that manipulating biology so older parents can have children will ultimately upend American society—“For we are bringing fewer children into the world and producing a generation that will be subtly different—‘phenotypically and biochemically different,’ as one study I read put it—from previous generations.”

Then there are the social consequences. Delaying marriage can also lead young people, who are at the height of their fertility, into a lifestyle that could hamstring future relational happiness. “You may start cohabitating, and then no relationship will be important or sacred to you,” said Orsi, who added that “you may also become set in your ways.”

Some parents cohabitated themselves, so they are unwilling to hold their children to a moral standard they couldn’t achieve themselves, said Orsi, who served on the Marriage Tribunal in his diocese….

To read the entire article, click here.




  1. I read the actual essay. There is a lot of wisdom in it.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Marrying at 23 is young?

    • Mark from PA says:

      I would consider marrying young being under the age of 22. Years ago when fewer people went to college more young people got married just out of high school. Some got married young because they “had to get married.” It is probably better for young people to finish their college educations or job training before getting married. Getting married just out of high school when a person has few job skills or is not employed may not be the wisest thing to do.

      • You are right. The public school system is a failure. Those graduating high school usually have no job skills to support themselves let alone a family.
        No job skills means living in poverty and off the taxpayers – who can find jobs.

        • Because over 50% of marriages end in divorce in the USA, a woman can not count on men to stay married for life. They must be educated or have good job skills to be able to support themselves – just in case, or they will be below the poverty line. And it will fall upon taxpayers to support them and their children in many cases.

          Having good job skills just for more consumerism – a bigger house, a bigger car, more of this and more of that is not necessary. Consumerism is part of the problem as well.

        • The public schools are failures because politicians control them. But in any case, the function should be to train people to think rather than be job training. A two-track system would be better. A vocational track where job skills are taught and another track to prepare students for higher education. Put each group in their own school, and concentrate on the tracks in separate environments appropriate to the school’s purpose. Not everyone, and certainly not society as a whole are well served by pretending that all kids should go to college.

      • Anne T. says:

        My husband and I, about 19 and 24. We were married in a small Church wedding over fifty years ago. We came from families of divorce and remarriage and learned from some of the mistakes of our parents.

  3. Abeca Christian says:

    I got married in my early 20’s…I think that is perfect.

  4. Tom Byrne says:

    My parents married at 20 and 19 in 1955 and still are.

  5. My wife and I married at 19. We were married for 39 years, then death
    parted us. Like any married couple we had both good and not-so-good
    times. There are very few things I would have done differently, but
    overall – no regrets. When we married in 1968, people who married
    as teens had an 87% chance that they would divorce within 5 years.

    We were blessed, indeed.

  6. Father Karl says:

    Biologically, it is better for couples to marry young. One reason why nature has women go through the change of life, and men becoming not as interested in sex is because it is physically and mentally difficult for older people to raise children. Senior citizens get tired much easier, plus they do not have the patience they had when they were young adults. It is also easier to adapt to one’s spouse when one is younger, because one has not been set in his (or hers) ways. Most of the saints married young, and morally speaking it is a means of avoiding fornication. In many Catholic societies, couples marry young (but not under the age of 19), and the divorce rate does not seem to be as high as for those who marry when they are older. Of course, the main reason why marriages are falling apart is because the husband and wife do not pray together, and keep Christ as the head of their household. The sacrament of marriage, if lived according to the norms of the Church, will produce enough graces to sustain the married couple during trying times. Unfortunately, the majority of Catholics here in the United States have invalid marriages (being married outside of the Church, or having been divorced and remarried several times, and having consented to birth control, or abortion), so these are NOT sacramental marriages. In other words, so sacrament, no grace; no grace, no spiritual aids to guide the couple to living a saintly Christian life.

    • Father Karl, I agree with you wholeheartedly and have been saying people are waiting too long to marry for years! I think the obvious reason is of course birth control and couples simply don’t feel the need to marry as they feel they can have sex without the ‘worry’ of pregnancy…unfortunately for them, they wait too long and often find they can’t have children and then go to extremes trying to have children. It’s nuts! You have to be very careful when you meet women with small children, because often they’re the mother and they look like the grandmother! Also, by waiting so long to marry, couples end up having mutiple partners leading to dissatisfaction with only one person for any length of time, leading many men to find ‘satisfaction’ in porn addiction so they can continue the thrill of that ‘new’ someone. I married at nineteen and my husband was 21…we attended college together and lived in married student housing. It was so fun and we played in the orchestra, went camping on weekends, etc. I went back to school in my fifties in NYC to study fashion, so it’s never too late to get another degree or more. I can attest that I know of no young person in my family that has married young…they all want big homes, fine furnishings etc. and college paid for, etc. Unbelievable…and they’re encouraged to feel this way as being the mature , intelligent way of doing things. I was raised to believe that marriage to the one you love is the first priority and everything else will fall into place with dilligence and hard work. Young people feel their careers and economic success are the most important thing and though some may feel it’s ‘low class’ to marry young, I think it is mainly the pressure from movies and tv soaps that glorify careers and multiple partners. Now that is low class! It’s basically the usual herd mentality, as it always was. It boils down to the lesbian feminists hating marriage and family…promoting abortion, promiscuity, birth control, disrespect of male authority, self-hatred of the female reproductive system and a host of other evils. Quite a little price ticket for
      so-called equality, I’d say. I’ve wished for some time that they would just shut up, but of course they never do.

    • Anne T. says:

      You are exactly right, Fr. Karl. It is also better if the man is somewhat older than the woman.

      • Anne T. says:

        It is also better if they have as many things in common as possible. Opposites attract, but if there are too many “opposites”, they have too much about which to fight.

  7. Rather than older girls and young women giving away sexual favors (fornication), they should save themselves for Marriage only.
    I know this sounds old fashioned but it works.
    If the vast majority of women were chaste, many men would be clamoring to get married. 🙂
    – – –
    My daughter and her boyfriend wanted to live together. I told her the reasons this was a bad idea. For once, she listened to me. Within 30 days he gave her a ring, and within 6 months they were married.
    They have been happily married for 17 years now, and I now have 4 grandchildren – all girls who are being taught the same thing.

    • Women have to learn to say “NO” to sex, (until after marriage).
      They should not lead a young man (whom the insist they love) into sin.
      Young people must be taught that if they “LOVE” someone, they will want that person to get to Heaven.
      And that LUST is not Love, nor is lust lasting.

      • Helping each other get to Heaven should be the goal of all couples.

      • When I was young boys used to say “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? ” Vulgar but to the point! If all mothers would do as you do and advise their daughters to remain chaste for their future husband, what a difference we would see. It isn’t old=fashioned so much as timeless advice. (and with the danger of so many std’s that often can’t be cured, young people really need guidance)

    • Anonymous says:

      That is a good point.

  8. good cause says:

    Early marriage (under 25) in this culture is a blue collar gig. White collar folks need further education and a steady job before marrying, so marrying in the 26-30 age range makes more sense for them. A blanket “let’s get married even earlier than we are now” is foolhardy. Just because the hormones are running doesn’t mean life commitments make good sense at that young age. Remember our parent’s generation (who married in the 50s) kept most of the women at home and most homemakers didn’t bring in an income. Not so in today’s world. The roles in marriage have changed dramitaically and later marriage is a better alternative for many reasons. In our parent’s’ generartion marriage was easier because everyone knew what to do and there was not a lot of debate about what the roles would be. Marriage in today’s world is far too complex a matter to flippantly suggest that we should return to 18 year olds getting married. Today’s immature culture will not produce better relationships at very young ages and divorces and domestic violence will be even worse.

    • Anonymous says:

      If you click the link, scroll down to the comments section where some young men describe the difficulties in keeping the Faith in this late marrying culture. Marriage is postponed because people are having sex outside of marriage.

    • My husband and I both graduated from 4 year private college and married soon after and we have a lot of friends who did the same; so I don’t think “marrying under 25 is a blue collar gig.” My husband earned a master’s degree during our marriage and he is definitely in a white collar profession. All my sisters and brothers married under 25 and are in white collar professions. My father married in his 30’s and my mother was late 20’s when they married – they were blue collar small business owners. I can find plenty of examples to disprove your generalization. The problem now is most men are raised to see no incentive to getting married and grow up – sex is free and doesn’t mean anything. Many men I know said that marriage and having kids was the best impetus to maturing and taking responsibility. In the new book “What to Expect When No One’s Expecting” about America’s coming demographic disaster, the author sites later marrying ages as one of the causes of declining fertility rates.

      • Beautiful Sandra, and congratulations!! I can’t speak for you, but in my own experience ‘romantic love’ has nothing to do with a long marriage so much as forgiveness and obedience to God. So many people get divorced anymore because they’ve ‘fallen out if love’ which is the mist immature, stupid reason there is. You stay together because you live God and the live if your spouse will follow… It is an act of Will not of emotion. Unless your life is in danger there is no good reason for divorce.

    • Those are simply cliche’s, good cause. Women stayed home while raising their children, but large numbers of women worked later in life. Surely you don’t think there was any one like June Cleaver in the real world! That was complete make believe except for a small minority. Women worked hard…whether it was at home, because they didn’t have labor saving devices like we’ve got today, or they worked doubly hard, working at home and at a job. It was a sign of status that a woman could afford to stay home and not have to work, and it was often a reflection on the man as being incapable of maintaining his family without help. Why don’t you watch “The Prizewinner From Defiance Ohio” based on a true story. My mom worked because she wanted to, as she was a teacher and loved being out of the home. I can speak with authority that if a woman has a choice at all she should stay home til the kids are older…like in their early teens.

    • Kenneth M. Fisher says:

      The fact that today both partners in marriage need to work was first planned by Karl Marx and his successors including many so called American politicians. It was done largely through amoral taxation. When I first started reading about working mothers, I knew that this was going to happen.

      God bless, yours in Their Hearts,
      Kenneth M. Fisher

      • In many (but not all) cases in the USA both parents do not need to work. SECULARISM / CONSPICUOUS CONSUMMERISM – the need to possess more, bigger and better is part of the problem which requires both parents to work outside the home.

        • Amen! That is so true! I’m so proud of me daughter in law who is staying home with the children and doing a lot of volunteer work

        • Anne T. says:

          You are right, Paul. When I stayed home with my children I learned to sew just about everything we wore including some of my husband’s pants and shirts, and they were very professionally done and of better quality than most stores. I also made my own curtains, but not drapes, and learned to can food. I worked seasonally outside the home later or part time. My husband went to college after we were married. Where there is a will, there is usually a way, and we were taught to take care of the things we had and not be wasteful a long time before the environment “police” came along.

          • Anne T. says:

            The environment “police”, though, have become necessary in many cases, especially when some people are very wasteful. Many store clerks have complained to me how people take more plastic bags than they need from the vegetable departments, especially when two items are the same price and can be put in one bag. It is a wonder the stores are not charging for those types of bags now as they are the others.

      • Interesting, Kenneth. I’d never heard that. Was Marx married or have children?

  9. One problem with marrying young is, with most people, higher fertility and stronger sex drive. Natural Family Planning works for some people, but other couples have several children early in the marriage when they can least afford it. Contraception is a sin, but when people have a limited income or are unemployed they may be tempted to use contraception.

    • NFP has been perfected if practiced correctly, as science has taught us more about the physical aspects of the human body.
      It is not like it used to be years ago.
      “Natural Family Planning” works for most people.
      In fact, science has used NFP in REVERSE to help people who want to conceive.

  10. There are some solid arguments for early marriage.

    One of my pet theories that ONE reason for odd sexual orientations and fetishes could be the increased gap between sexual maturity and first marriage. If you believe in the animal behavior concept of imprinting, the longer this gap is the more chance there is for odd or strange imprinting to occur. I would very much like to see a good study on homosexuality rates in hunting/gathering societies. I suspect they will be substantially lower than in our first world culture.

    I’m not talking just homosexuality or transexuality, but also odd object fetishes or pornography addiction.

    The problem is that many jobs require a much higher degree of training for a person to become economically viable.

    • Imprinting is the first thing someone sees after birth when the eyes and brain focuses – usually their Mother or Father.

      Fetches, and pornography can become addictions when practiced with regularity. Porn is a mortal sin.
      CCC: ” 2354 Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties.
      It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other.
      It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others.
      It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world.
      It is a grave offense.
      Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials. “

    • Anne T. says:

      Quite frankly, Jon J. I think people were too busy just surviving to experiment that way sexually. Women and children often died in child birth, so more births were needed just to keep the human race going. As the old saying goes, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop”.

  11. Michael says:

    Like becoming a Nun or a Priest, people should get married only when they truly believe in their heart of hearts this is the right thing to do, and now is the right time to do it.
    How tragic to push someone into marriage, only to later see it crash and burn.
    The couple themselves should decide: is this the right person for me? am I mature enough to understand and embraced the sacred vows I will exchange with my beloved before God’s altar? do we know each other well enough to make a life-long choice?

    • I don’t think anyone here is ‘pushing’ the idea of marriage so much as pushing the idea that if you’re going to marry, marry young, Michael. The majority of young people are living together because everyone is afraid to be judgmental and ‘push’ them to marry. Well, we push them to study to get passing grades, push them to get a job, push them to go to mass when they’re young and all the other important things, but we’re not to push getting married? Living together is a grave sin and I think parents are really remiss in condoning it. When did people get so darn whimpy? I highly recommend watching ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ again…it’s not only one of the best movies ever made, it is still timeless in the struggles of keeping the faith and traditions in contradiction to the pressures of a secular culture. There are even parents who let their kids sleep together when they visit them. Shameful! If people would stand up for something maybe everything would stop falling apart. I saw an interview with a famous moviestar recently and she was bemoaning how her mother’s love was conditional and felt that if she hadn’t been a good girl her mother wouldn’t love her. Well, though we know God loves us no matter what, if you read the little subordinant conjunctions that always precede God’s promises,eg; ‘There is only One who is good; BUT IF you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments”. All hinges on obedience and persevering to the end. So I don’t think it’s a being heartless or a mean parent to say something like, “You know we love you honey, BUT until you marry we would appreciate your…a)sleeping in separate rooms b)staying in a motel c)not spending the night as it upsets us to condone something we know offends God. Things can’t have changed that much that children still care what their parents think no matter what age they are. This is the exact opposite of what the advice mavens say, I know, and they are always telling parents to butt out, that they have no business interfering etc. but these women are completely secular in their understanding and frankly shouldn’t be advising anyone about anything as they’re giving merely opinion rather than wisdom based on natural law and tradition. They respond as though everything takes place in a vacuum.

  12. SandraD says:

    We married when I was 18 and he was 21. It’s been 45 wonderful years. Easy no. Right–yes! It works because of the GRACE a Sacramental Marriage offers. We had no earthly support, but the heavens worked overtime!

    • SandraD says:

      We supported each other obtaining degrees. We now are retired with 3 pensions and a paid off home. But our crowning achievement are our children and grandchildren that are thriving. With Jesus anything is possible.

      • Anne T. says:

        Staying married helps create wealth, Sandra. That is when the government does not impose unfair taxes on the married as some states have. That just discourages people from doing the right thing and makes them rely on government support and unscrupulous politicians.

        • Anne T. says:

          And the divorce lawyers make a fortune pitting one spouse against another, too. As one person said, “Divorce is like two Siamese twins fighting.” I had a relative who became a corporate lawyer because he was a devout Catholic and did not want to get involved in divorces. He and his wife were married until she passed away.

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