Posted on 21 Comments

The marriage rate

Just about every youth worker I’ve ever met would agree with this statement: “It’s best to not have sex before marriage.

It makes sense until you pair it with data from the U.S. Census Bureau. “The average age for first-time brides and grooms is the highest it’s ever been: 26.5 years old for brides and 28.7 for grooms.source

It makes even less sense when you consider that the age of puberty continues to drop. “At 7 years, 10.4 percent of white, 23.4 percent of black and 14.9 percent of Hispanic girls had enough breast development to be considered at the onset of puberty.source

So let me get this correct. A students body is “ready for sex” by, on average, 13 years old. (Most states have statutory rape laws outlawing sex before 16) However, the average person is waiting until their late 20s to get married. And one of our primary messages continues to be that students should wait for sex until marriage?

No wonder they  think we’re crazy!

While I agree, like we all would, that it’s best to wait for sex until marriage. It would make sense that we must also argue for early marriage for that to be realistic.

It would seem that we, in youth ministry, need to help change some minds. You can’t argue both for no sex before marriage and realistically expect a person to wait 15 years. Our bodies just aren’t built that way. Instead, more realistically, we need to argue for no sex before marriage and getting married in the early 20s. (Or sooner)

What do you think? 

Posted on 21 Comments

21 thoughts on “The marriage rate

  1. I don’t think we can force God’s timing and encourage early marriage. I think that will only lead to unhappy and “wrong” marriages. Also, marriage isn’t about sex, and life isn’t about sex. I think the emphasis placed on sex is too high – that’s what needs to change. We could all do with a little self-control. Students should be taught that life is more than just sex, and that God will bless their patience and abstinence. They should instead be thinking about what to do in the time spent waiting for a spouse. That all said, I don’t think “arguing for early marriage” is the answer.

    1. RN- I’d love to continue the dialog. You’ve shot down my premise, called it unbiblical, etc. Can you please offer some of your thoughts? 

      The point of this entry was to draw attention on the ramifications of our traditional positions on marriage and sex. Simply put: It’s not working. If virtually no one (statistically) is waiting for marriage for sex, the puberty rate is steadily dropping, and the marriage age is increasing… these are the facts. I didn’t make them up, I raised the question and offered something to think about in saying that we can’t argue for both waiting for sex until marriage AND waiting until society says we’re “ready for marriage.” 

      Ultimately, you are right, this isn’t about sex. This post is about marriage. More and more young adults don’t consider marriage something to aspire to. (Not that there is anything wrong with singleness) But understanding that our church strategies are built around reaching the nuclear family… all I’m saying is that something has to give. 

  2. I am not sure if kids who are in their early 20s are really emotionally/psychologically ready for marriage. I was engaged when I was 20, but realized later that it would have been a BIG mistake. When I did get married at 28, I was really ready. Too many people who get married younger do it so they can have sex and not feel guilty about it – that’s not a reason to get married! Marriage is a serious commitment and shouldn’t be entered into lightly.

    1. I don’t think there’s such a thing as “ready to marry.” Marriage matures you, it completes you, etc. But I don’t think this notion that you have to “wait until you are ready” means anything because no one would agree on what that looks like. It’s just a cultural way of creating an artificial barrier. We live in a society BUILT upon early marriage. Go back 2-3 generations and you’ll see most people married in their late teens and twenties. Are today’s teenagers and young adults less competent than their grandparents? I think not. We have just eliminated the expectations that they act like adults. 

      One reason people wait so long is that we have an American notion of “the right person.” We wait and wait and wait for “Mr. Right” and in the mean time miss plenty of people who could be Mr. Right. The requirements for what Jesus told us to look for are actually quite low… “don’t marry someone who is unequally yoked.” 

      Our culture has added in additional notions of compatibility, preference, etc. which simply are nice but not biblical requirements. 

      More to the point of this post… we have a problem in church if we tell people that sexuality is best expressed in marriage if we also live in a country where the age of puberty is dropping while the age of first marriage is increasing. Look at how much this has changed in just 40 years! It’s incredible that those ages stayed steady for thousands of years but in the last 40 years have moved so dramatically.

      What we will see, and are seeing already, is that young adults see no purpose to getting married. 

      1. I would love to let this go, but I just can’t. I have to disagree with this sentence: “we have a problem in church if we tell people that sexuality is best expressed in marriage if…” We don’t have a problem telling people that because God said it in His Word, no “if.” I think that’s what upset me initially about this post, that it makes God’s instruction seem subjective and based on all those statistics. It isn’t. God’s Word doesn’t change, regardless of the dramatic shift in the last 40 years. To make an observation with the “isn’t that weird?” intention is one thing (and harmless), but to suggest that it should have some bearing on how people react to Biblical teaching (or decide whne to get married) is what I bristle against.

        I really don’t mean to be the argumentative one here, and I don’t think I’ve ever commented on a blog post before this one. The audience for this site is youth workers, though, which I think gives you a level of responsibility. Had you posted this on a personal site, I probably wouldn’t have commented. I just feel that the article, and even the clarification, give possibly misguided advice to those who read this blog. 

        On the other hand, if you wrote this article to just get some heated responses, nice work! 🙂 Merry Christmas!

        1. First of all. It seems as though there’s a disconnect in what I am and am not saying. Am I saying that we should teach people it’s best to wait for sex until marriage? Of course, that’s the traditional view of religious people of all persuasions. It’s also in full acknowledgement that sex before marriage has existed nearly as long as marriage. That’s always been the ideal. But I think most youth workers today teach to aim for chastity while acknowledging that most won’t wait. This is teaching from a position of reality instead of idealism.

          The argument in my post is clear. You can’t argue for both late marriage of “when you’re ready” and “wait for marriage to have sex.” If that were a 4-5 year period between physically ready for sex and marriage, that might be a plausible reality for most people. But to teach a 13 year old that they can’t have sex before marriage and that marriage might not happen until you are 26.5 for women and 28+ for me… that’s not too realistic. (Double their current age) It just isn’t a realistic position to take. That’s why if you go to a “True Love Waits” thing you’ll see 13-14 year olds. Older students just aren’t buying it.

          The argument in this post is that we need to remove the culturally created idea that you have to be 26-28 to be “ready” for marriage. That’s silly. Asking someone to wait 4-5 years is a lot easier than asking them to wait 15+ years. Because, as any statistic will show you, they don’t.

          And as I pointed out in the post. Marriage is absolutely what is at risk. More and more people are just opting out of the system of marriage altogether.

          BTW- You said, “God’s instruction seem subjective and based on all those statistics. It isn’t. God’s Word doesn’t change.” I’d like to see some references to that. Actually, our understanding of God’s Word changes dramatically over time.

  3. I’m a big fan of simplicity and fundamentals, so here is my simplistic approach:  I only bother telling young people what God chose to communicate in Scripture.  No problem having your opinion on the matter.  It is probably wise to keep it to yourself when it comes to teaching young people.

  4. Interesting…I find myself agreeing.  I don’t know if it’s categorically correct to suggest everyone marry young, I do think there is something to be said for speaking practically to the fact that, the longer you wait the harder it gets.  

    As a guy who got married at 20, I absolutely believe that you can be ready for marriage at a young age.  The reality is that many Christians couples in their young 20’s unofficially (but effectively) cohabitate.  Spend every waking minute together, play house, and compromise their convictions.  “RN” is right to say that life/marriage is more than sex, but so many young couples are overinvesting physically AND emotionally operating in a faux-marriage without the commitment that God calls us to.

  5. I think it’s more an issue of young adults not knowing what to do with their lives, not earnestly seeking a holy ambition from God that has them taking longer to grow up mentally/emotionally when they are technically mature physically. I don’t think we should be promoting young marriage, just younger true adulthood.

    1. What would you define as true adulthood?

      1. A few things that even most “adults” in our society can’t even get straight. To start: taking responsibility for ones own actions instead of blaming everyone else. Commitment (and again I’m not just talking about marriage here) instead of always having one foot out the door incase something better comes along. And the realization that there is some value in delayed gratification instead thinking you need to have whatever you want right now.

        1. Jody, in my studies, some social scientists are advocating that there needs to be a separation between teen adolescence and what they are calling ’emerging adulthood’ 
          adolescence. The idea is that the separation would allow them to grow into responsibility thus preparing them for later important adult commitments. When young people live careless commitment free lives from their teens until a major (sometimes unpredictable) adult situation (surprise pregnancy, etc), they are often unprepared to step up. I see this in Christian young people as well.


  6. Why did God make the human body so that it matures sexually long before it matures mentally and emotionally? Why did God goof up so royally? “Intelligent” design again?

    1. I don’t think God messed up. I think our society has embraced infantalization of our young adults. We’ve not only convinced them that they are incapable of an adult relationship, we’ve made it illegal in nearly every US state to carry on an adult relationship. (Whether legally married or not) The pushback is typically about “emotional readiness.” 

      Of course, that’s contrary to the fact that our society’s history and most societies on the planet today was built on early marriage. Our great-grandparents weren’t perverts because they married at 17… but if a young couple wants to get married at 17 now its somehow a tragedy?In November 2011 we hosted a Symposium on Extended Adolescence with Robert Epstein (UCSD) and Jeffrey Arnett (Clark) to explore this phenomenon. I’d encourage you to read their texts. (Neither are Christian, per se, but both have done extensive research on this.)Why are children as young as 7 years old entering puberty? There’s a lot of ongoing research asking that question. I don’t claim to be an expert. But one theory that seems to make sense is that meat/dairy products contain residue of growth hormones which may be prompting early onset puberty, especially in girls. In other words, it seems as though there may be an environmental reason for this. I don’t know if you’re involved in the church or not. But in a lot of evangelical circles there is a weird cocktail of “true love waits,” “wait until post-college to get married,” and fretting that not many young adults are virgins when they do get married at 26-28 years old. The point of this post was to help fellow evangelicals begin to see that you can’t have it all. 

      Personally, I think we as an American society have a disgusting fascination of teenage sexuality. 

      Not sure if my comment helps at all, but hoping to continue the conversation on an important topic. 

  7. Come on! You know why the age at which people marry is higher than it was – its an expensive step getting a new home and so on. People  aren’t going to marry while they can’t afford to and money and jobs are both in short supply.

    Pushing people to marry earlier is only going to encourage the wrong choices on mentally immature people and result in more divorces.

    Is there real, actual evidence to support the statement “It’s best to not have sex before marriage.”? For religious people this might be their belief, but I’m not sure this is really the case.

    Oh, and I was married at 27 to a 22 year old, so I wonder if the age is going up that much….

    1. I’d like to see you support this statement, “encourage wrong choices on mentally immature people.” Are you saying that a 20 year old is mentally more immature than say… a 40 year old? 

      Let’s not confuse physical mental maturity with experience. 

  8. I think the extended adolescence issue factors into the marriage rate. People arent necessarily waiting to get married because of expense. They are waiting because they know that marriage is an acknowledgement of adult status that comes with maximum responsibility. Although gradutating high school and getting a drivers liscence factors in too, marriage carries more weight. You may be right that waiting for mariage this long is not realistic anymore. But lets also talk about what is missing in our culture today compared to 2000 years ago. There were mechanisms in place that protected marriage from frivolity.
    Great discussion.

    Ron T.

  9. I know I’ll get blow back from this…but the opening statement suggests it is a Biblically value to dissuade one from having sex before marriage.  
    Can anyone back this up with a concrete scripture reference.  I’m not asking for a reference that says “don’t cheat on your wife;” that speaks to adultery not premarital sex.  Just like to pick some one’s brain about that…

  10. I believe that the gap in time provides the opportunity for one to learn to control bodily desires. Controlling the desires of the flesh will be ongoing challenge. So we are designed by God to face this eariy in our teenage years.

  11. […] sex? What can the church do to help people find ideal living in non-ideal times? Thanks to Adam McLane at the Youth Cartel for spurring on my thinking on this […]

  12. Read “Kosher Sex”, by Shmuley Boteach, a Hasidic rabbi, the book attempts to remove sexual taboos and explain the power and place of sex within a marriage – all while looking at it in its religious/faith aspects. Very interesting. It will change your mind about your comment that “marriage isn’t about sex”. Rn, you state that we shouldn’t “force God’s timing and encourage early marriage.” Maybe we’re going against God’s timing by encouraging late marriage. Have you considered that? Over the years of youth ministry I’ve become more of a believer in promoting earlier marriage than “waiting until you’re out of college and on your own.”

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