Why Do Men Wait?

The other night I was watching The Bachelorette.  Yes, I do in fact still like that show.  Whether it’s realistic or not, it’s exciting to watch people experience the thrills of falling in love.  Of course, it would be better if the relationships tended to work out and turned into strong, healthy marriages – most times they do not – but nonetheless the mysterious, unscripted, romantic feelings that cause people cast all fear aside in the hopes of attaining lifelong love is good TV if you ask me!  Ever notice how love always has a way of getting you to root for it?  It’s impossible to watch a show like The Bachelorette, or any romantic comedy for that matter, without hoping that in the end, love will find a way.  Okay, so this is not a plug for The Bachelorette, I’m getting to my point…

The other night as I was watching this show I noticed something peculiar.  I’m sure I wasn’t the first person to make this observation, but I noticed that almost all of the men who went on this show were between 27 and 35 years old, accomplished in whatever field or industry they worked in and surprisingly, most of them had only very recently opened up to the idea of pursuing a future and a family with someone.  Throughout the show, many of the guys made references to how they’d spent most of their 20’s in meaningless, shallow relationships or in relationships that turned out to be dead ends.  And now, as they transitioned into their 30’s, their desire to settle down finally seemed to kick in.  They finally got serious about taking on the role and responsibility of being a one-woman family man.

The funny thing: these days in our culture, this late-blooming for men seems normal.  I mean, who would want to marry a man before he’s proven to be successful in his career, right?  Wrong!  My friend Christina Hutchison wrote a very insightful blog post about her  thoughts and experience as a 30 year old single, Christian woman who desires to be married.  I thought her perspective was well-spoken and it made me think about my own experience as a married woman as well.

Currently, I am 24, married and scheduled to have a baby sometime in January of 2012… and I feel really young!  At the doctors office I look younger than most of the other pregnant women I see and I don’t know a ton of other women my age who are having babies yet.  Many, in fact, are still waiting to be married.  I don’t feel like I’m too young to start a family, but according to most of what I see around me in the culture and in the media, I’m practically throwing away the best years of my life!  Halle Berry had her first child at age 41.  Selma Hayek, same age.  Julianne Moore, 41.  Nicole Kidman, yep, you guessed it,  41.  Susan Sarandon, 43.  Madonna 38.  Of course there are lots of examples of female celebrities having babies at a younger age too…but examples like Britney Spears and Jamie Lynn Spears make it look so…well, traumatic and uncool.  And the young moms that still manage to appear sleek and stylish have nannies, so of course they are still able to continue triumphing in their careers with a few soccer games on the side.  Of course, there’s nothing wrong with women having babies at an older age, it’s just that the trend in Hollywood seems to lean so far in that direction.  It’s the “live your life, then start a family” mentality versus the “family is life” mentality.

Here are the stats:

Fewer people are getting married.  For the last 40 years, marriage rates have been gradually decreasing.  Some of this is attributed to people waiting longer to get married.  The average age of marriage in the United States is currently around 26 and 28 for women and men respectively.  Another factor is that more people are choosing to live together, some instead of getting married, and some as a prelude to marriage.  In fact, 60% of Americans in first marriages now live together with their partner before getting married. (source: eharmony labs)

The average age of first-time mothers in the United States has been rising steadily over the past four decades — up from 21.4 in 1970 to a little over 25 in 2005, the National Center for Health Statistics reports.  According to the study, more than a third of first-time moms in the U.S. are over 30 when they have their first child.  (These are the numbers from a 2006 study.  After snooping around online, it seems that the 2006 study provides the most recent statistics on this topic.  As you can imagine, the average age of first time mothers has likely risen since then as well).

My friend Christina proposed that this delay in marriage may be due to a culture shift where men simply do not take the initiative to pursue women until they find themselves financially stable and able to provide.  While this reason may amount to part of the delay in marriages, quite possibly the other side of the story is that many women also do not consider marriage as a feasible option while they themselves are in school or trying to get their careers off the ground.  The feminist, “independence rules!” mentality may have scared men off.  Maybe men backed off because so many women kept telling them that the last thing they wanted was to settle down and become a housewife before they’d had their chance to live a little.  What came first, the chicken or the egg?

Especially for people who pursue undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, marriage during college usually means that mom and dad stop paying for tuition.  Ouch!  Tens of thousands of dollars of debt seems like a pretty good reason to postpone getting hitched I suppose.

So while I think the cultural shift may hold both men and women responsible for this delay in marriage, I very much appreciated Christina’s insightful take on the whole issue.  She’s awesome!  Check out her blog, He makes all things new, to see what she had to say.

As for those who are willing to make a change in geographic location in hopes of finding marital bliss, Idaho has the lowest median age for first marriages, followed by Kansas, Arkansas, Utah and Oklahoma.  Potatoes, corn and long skirts anyone?

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