“Yours is going to be the next wedding we all get together for!”
This is something a relative said to me at my 21-year-old cousin’s wedding a few years ago. I had just turned 15.
I imagine I clutched my glass of not-champagne a little more tightly at these words. True, there were six years and no other cousins between the bride and me, so the relative may not have been technically wrong, but her comment implied that matrimony awaited me sooner rather than later.
That was South Carolina in 2006. According to the American Community Survey from that year, the median age of women at their first marriage was 26.3, so my cousin was a young bride for the time and place.
According to 2013 estimates released recently, the median age of first brides in Mississippi is 26.1. I’d like to print this number on a large billboard for me to point to whenever friends or relatives ask when I’m going to settle down — as though at 23 and a half, my biological clock is ticking with increasing urgency.
I assumed before moving here Mississippi, like many conservative and relatively religious states, would have couples getting married at a much younger age than the rest of the country. In reality, the median age of first brides in the nation is 26.9, not even a year older than Mississippi’s median age.
Meanwhile, the median age of Mississippi grooms is 27.8, while the national median age is 28.9. Yes, the Mississippi numbers are lower, but when you compare them to my cousin’s age, the average Mississippi couple is just about on par with the rest of the nation in terms of when they get married.
These numbers have also increased in the last half century. A chart published by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2012 shows how the ages of married couples has increased since 1890. In the decade before the 20th century, women were married around age 23 and men around age 26. Those numbers decreased slightly at the beginning of the twentieth century and then fell dramatically during World War II. By 1950, the median age for a first-time bride was 20 and a first-time groom 24. The numbers have been increasing ever since.
The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia teamed up on the project “Knot Yet,” which studied the benefits and costs of delayed marriage among millennials. The study finds that benefits are particularly good for college-educated women, who tend to enjoy an annual income premium of about $18,000 if they don’t get married until their 30s. The cost is that more children are born outside wedlock, particularly to women with little or no college education. The other costs are that 20-something singles — both men and women — tend to be less satisfied and happy.
Those are all generalizations though. It’s up to individuals whether waiting to get married is right for them. And marriage has never been the one thing I always thought would make me happy. While my girlfriends always flipped through wedding catalogs and looked at flowers and gowns online, I flipped through travel magazines and compared prices for plane tickets to Europe on Expedia.com.
That hasn’t stopped people from wondering when or if I’m ever going to get around to getting married. My lifelong best friend, who is nearly a year younger than me, is getting married in August and plans to use the reception to set me up with a lawyer on the guest list.
I imagine such attempts will become more frantic as I approach the national median age of first-time brides.
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