It used to be that the age of 30 was a milestone—if not the milestone—for young women. When I was a kid, I assumed I’d be married and have a couple of kids before I reached the end of my 20s, but the reality was very different and distinctly more Bridget Jones-esque. But while the big 3-0 used to feel like a looming spectre in the distance, that definitely seems to be changing—because getting married in your 30s may just be the new normal.
While for decades and decades the average marriage age hovered in the 20s, the times seem to be changing. If you’re not anywhere close to getting married as you see your 20s start to whoosh by, there’s no need to be worried. Both statistically and societally, waiting longer to get married is becoming more and more of a norm. This trend reflects some of the best parts of modern life—but also some of the slightly more difficult parts of being a young adult in 2020.
So just how much is the marriage age changing over time? And why are more people getting married a little later? Here’s what you need to know, because everyone is different.
Statistically, It’s Just A Fact
If it feels like everyone around you is starting to get married in their early 30s, you’re not imagining it—people really are getting married later than ever. The average age to get married in the UK has finally tipped over the 30-year-old mark. In the US, the average age of marriage has also been increasing—many point to the average age of men being 29 and women being 27. That’s true, based off of the last available data—but we don’t have a reflection of how things are at this moment and, with the trend toward older marriages, it’s safe to say our average marriage will move into the 30s soon—if we haven't already.
It’s A Reflection Of Our Time
There are a lot of different reasons people are getting married later—and it's a reflection of our time, for better and for worse. Women have tended to get married at a younger age than men, partially because of sexism and spinster rhetoric, but also because women were historically less likely to have as much formal education, let alone go to college or become a career woman. The fact that some women are putting marriage off can be seen as a sign of how much better things are for women now. We have more autonomy and more choices—and we might want to delay marriage while we focus on other areas of our lives. We might not. The choice is ours.
But this delay can also reflect a more difficult part of today’s society—the financial pressures placed on young adults. With the rising cost of living, mountains of student loan debts, and a lack of job security, some of us just aren’t financially in a position to get married or settled down until we’re a little older.
It’s Not About A Lack Of Romance
Just because we’re getting married later, doesn’t mean we should start fretting about hookup culture. People are still in meaningful relationships—and cohabitating, non-married couples are on the rise. In 2016, there were 18 million Americans who weren’t married but were living with their partner, according to the Pew Research Center. To put that in perspective, that’s a 29 percent rise in less than 10 years, since 2007. People are choosing other ways to show their commitment.
It Gives More Time For Contemplation
One of the good things about waiting a little longer to get married is that, for some people, it gives them more time to figure out who they are and who they want to be with. If you knew the kind of person you wanted to be me and met the right partner at 21, that’s great—but I know that I changed a lot during my 20s and wasn't in the right place to be in the kind of relationship I have now until I got a little older. For some people, that extra time is key.
It Varies From Person To Person
Now, there’s a good chance you’re reading this and saying, “Yeah right—all of my friends were married by 26.” And that might absolutely be the case. Although these statistics show national trends, it still varies from person to person—and even region to region or religion to religion. A group of five best friends from my high school were all married by 25, but when I look at my group of best friends from high school, only a tiny fraction are married at the age of 32. People in cities tend to marry later than those in rural areas, while certain religions can lead to earlier marriage.
The point is, just because getting married in your 30s may quickly be becoming the new normal, that doesn’t mean you should feel awkward or out of place if that doesn’t reflect your life at all. You may get married in your 20s, 40s, 50s, or never.