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Deciding when the time is right to get married has an emotional element, but there's also a financial side to consider. Merging your finances with your significant other requires planning for things like setting up a household budget, saving for the short- and long-term, buying a home, and paying down individual or joint debts.
Age can also play a part in the decision-making process. Whether getting married earlier makes sense versus waiting until later depends on your financial goals and overall money situation. If you're planning to tie the knot, here are some important things to weigh in the balance.
The chart below shows the median age of first marriages by gender from 1890 through 2018.
Average Age of Marriage in the U.S.
The average age of marriage has been trending up, as more Americans wait longer to get married. According to 2018 statistics, the average age at which women get married is age 27.8 years. For men, the average age of marriage is 29.8 years.
That's an increase of nearly a decade over the past century. In 1920, the average woman got married at 21.2 years old while men married at 24.6 years of age. While men have historically gotten married later than women, the age gap between them is closing. On average, women are two years younger than men when getting married for the first time.
Only 29% of Americans age 18-34 were married in 2018, compared to 59% in 1978. The number of people choosing to live together without being married is also increasing. In 2018, 15% of adults age 25-34 lived with an unmarried partner, up from 12% in 2008 (and around 5% in 1978). In other words, men and women aren't necessarily in a rush to put a ring on it.
Measuring the Financial Effects of Marriage
Help with debt and savings
Save for retirement
Keeps spending in check
More affordable insurance
Easier to get a home
Conflicting ideas can create tension
Uneven balance of debt
Pressure on household income
Money goals can be delayed
Child planning can be a point of tension
Getting married can be a good thing financially in many ways. Going from one income to two, for example, can make it easier to get a grip on debt repayment or advance your savings goals. Having a partner to help with saving and investing can also help you create a brighter outlook for retirement. And when you have someone working with you on a monthly budget, that creates a certain level of accountability, which can motivate you to keep spending in check.
You could also come out ahead as a couple by merging your insurance coverage. If you've both been paying for health insurance, either out of pocket or through your employer, having one spouse join the other's plan could add some savings back into your monthly budget.
Buying a home is made easier when you have two incomes and two credit scores to draw from for mortgage approvals. Married couples could also potentially pay less in taxes when filing a joint return, depending on their incomes and the types of deductions and credits for which they're eligible.
On the other hand, marriage can lead to financial difficulties if you and your spouse have conflicting ideas about managing your money. For example, you might be a saver while your spouse is a spender. Or one of you may be a stickler for detail when it comes to budgeting while the other is more relaxed about tracking expenses.
Problems can also arise if one spouse is bringing a substantial debt into the marriage, and you both can't agree on the best approach to paying it off. If you do agree to handle it together, that could put more pressure on your household income, forcing you to delay other money goals.
Other financial impacts that are less direct, as well. For instance, regardless of what age you plan to have children, you'll have to consider how that would affect career advancement for each of you. Would one spouse be expected to stay home while the other works, or would you share in work and childcare responsibilities equally? These are issues you'd want to decide well before a baby arrives in the picture.
How to Decide When to Get Married
Pinning down when the best time is to get married can be tricky, and it involves taking a look at your individual and joint financial picture together. Having an ongoing conversation about your finances can help you decide whether it makes sense to get married while you're younger or wait a little while until your finances have improved.
Ask yourself these questions to help decide whether the timing is right for a marriage:
- How much debt do we have individually and jointly?
- Would the way we're paying those debts change after marriage?
- Would getting married yield any savings where our insurance and taxes are concerned?
- How much do we have in savings, individually and jointly?
- What matters most to each of us where saving is concerned?
- Do we share common savings goals?
- How do our incomes compare?
- If there's a wide gap in our incomes, how would that impact things like budgeting, debt repayment, and saving?
- If one or both of us have debt, would either of us feel more comfortable waiting until that debt is repaid to get married?
Ultimately It's a Personal Decision
While you can use the average age of marriage as a guideline, choosing when to get married is ultimately a personal decision. If you and your significant other are still trying to find common ground financially, consider talking to a financial advisor. Getting a third-party perspective on your finances and money goals can help you decide whether it's better to walk down the aisle sooner or later.
United States Census Bureau. "Historical Marital Status Tables," Download "Table MS-2. Estimated Median Age at First Marriage, by Sex: 1890 to the Present." Accessed Oct. 3, 2019.
United States Census Bureau. "Percent Married Among 18-to 34-Year-Olds: 1978 and 2018," Accessed Oct. 3, 2019.
United States Census Bureau. "Living Arrangements of Adults Ages 25-34," Accessed Oct. 3, 2019.