A substantial number of young people are bucking tradition and putting off marriage until they feel more financially secure, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center.
In a poll published Wednesday, 34 percent of unmarried 25- to 34-year-olds said financial instability was one of the primary roadblocks keeping them from walking down the aisle. Just 20 percent of singletons over the age of 35 said the same. The study also found the percentage of Americans who have never said “I do” is at an all-time high.
In an interview with The New York Times, Pew Research Director Kim Parker said the group’s latest findings on declining marriage rates are especially striking considering the tendency of previous generations to get married well before their finances were set.
“If you go back a generation or two, couples would literally take the plunge together and build up their finances and nest eggs together,” said Parker. “Now it seems to be this attitude among young adults to build up households before they get married.”
Delaying marriage: financially savvy?
Parker’s quote caught my eye because it clashed against my own experience as a newlywed. When my husband and I married two years ago, he had just finished graduate school and was struggling to find a job in his chosen field, while I was working in journalism and making just enough to pay my bills and put away a small amount.
Neither one of us was anywhere close to being financially secure. But once we did get hitched, I felt more financially stable than I had ever felt. My deep-seated fear of experiencing another layoff eased considerably and paying my bills felt easier, too, once we did have two incomes to support us. For me, getting married was one of the best things I could have done for my finances, even if neither one of us is making anything close to big bucks.
According to a joint study from the Relate Institute and the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project, delaying marriage can be beneficial for some. But for others, it can make it even harder to achieve the financial security they’re seeking.
For example, college-educated women who wait until they’re 30 or older to get married tend to have substantially higher incomes — perhaps because they’re less likely to have children at a younger age. People who delay marriage until they’re older are also less likely to get divorced, which also helps boost their long-term security.
But delaying marriage can also come at a cost — especially if you have children before you tie the knot. According to the Relate Institute and University of Virginia’s joint report, people who delay marriage, but don’t delay having children, are more likely to live in unstable homes, and their children are also more likely to struggle.
Extra help when things get tough
On the bright side, marriage may help some people overcome significant financial hurdles — even if they start out their marriage in a financial hole.
That’s what happened to my mom and step-dad after they both experienced financially wrenching divorces. My mom was broke with a toddler at home when she met my step-dad. My step-dad was deeply in debt, with three young children of his own. Neither one of them was anywhere close to being financially stable. But they got married anyway, and they both say that being married helped them overcome some of the financial challenges they later faced.
“We clawed our way out together,” said my step-dad when I asked him about it the other day. “It’s just cheaper to share everything.” When he went back to school, my mom worked to support the family. Then he did the same when she went back to school. Later, when my step-dad was laid off from his teaching job, my mom temporarily put aside her studies and went back to work to pay the bills.
“It was odd, in a way, that whenever his job or his finances were low, I was able to make up the difference,” said my mom. And he did the same for her. “It definitely helped to be married because you have two people trying to reach toward the same goals to support the family,” she said. “You don’t feel like you’re the only one.”