Recent research suggests that young couples are doing fine, despite the stereotypes.
Most single American adults aspire to be married. But for many now, marriage is supposed to be a capstone achievement rather than a cornerstone of young adult life. The “capstone model” says you are supposed to have all your ducks in a row—education, some professional success, and a clear adult identity—before you marry.
The median age at first marriage has increased over the past 50 years in the United States—from 23 in 1970 to about 30 in 2021 for men, and from 21 in 1970 to 28 in 2021 for women—with no sign of this upward trend leveling off.
Indeed, a recent national survey of millennials (ages 18–33) found the vast majority of respondents agree that marrying later means both people will be more mature, more likely to have achieved important personal goals, and more likely to have personal finances in order. Moreover, these young adults believe that later marriages will be more stable and of higher quality. That is the widely accepted cultural narrative.
Do later unions consistently provide better prospects for marital success than earlier ones? We often hear about the advantages of capstone marriage, but there has been little empirical investigation of those supposed benefits.
In a new State of Our Unions: 2022 report published by the National Marriage Project, the Wheatley Institution, and the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University, Alan Hawkins’s team of researchers reports on an empirical investigation of potential differences and similarities between two groups: early-marrieds (ages 20–24), who are more aligned with a “cornerstone marriage” model, and later-marrieds (25-plus), who are more aligned with a capstone marriage model. The study analyzes …