Waiting to Wed

On average, Americans are waiting seven years longer to get married than they did 50 years ago

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Waiting to Wed

In 1969, the typical American woman married at age 21, the typical American man at age 23. But today, on average, women are 28 and men are about 31 when they tie the knot. (All are referring to the median age for a first marriage.)

Younger Americans are clear about their reasons for waiting to wed: According to a 2014 survey by the Pew Research Center, 34% of never-married adults ages 25-34 said they are not financially prepared; 29% said they haven’t found someone who has the qualities they are looking for; and 13% said they are too young and not ready. 

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Men: 23 Women: 21

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THE MEDIAN AGES at first marriage in 1969.

Men: 31 Women: 28

THE MEDIAN AGES at first marriage in 2020.

What accounts for this change in age at first marriage? Consider a few broad trends. First, both men and women today are better educated than their counterparts were 50 years ago. Thirty-six percent of Millennial women have at least a bachelor’s degree, four times the percentage of their Silent Generation predecessors (born from 1928 to 1945) who had achieved that level of education at the same age. Three in 10 Millennial men (29%) have a least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 15% of their counterparts 50 years ago.

“It’s not uncommon for people to wait to get married until after obtaining their education, and the share of people who are getting bachelor’s degrees (or going to college at all) has increased dramatically,” says Gretchen Livingston, an expert on demography and family at the Pew Research Center. 

Second, in the past, couples used to get married first and then have children. That trend is changing, as more Americans become parents before they marry. What’s more, Livingston notes that the age at which couples today first start living together is similar to what the age at first marriage used to be. Before marrying, many couples are opting to cohabit, she says.

Finally, some experts have observed that getting married is no longer a steppingstone in life’s timeline but rather a capstone event. “It’s become more common for people to feel as though they shouldn’t marry until they are well established,” says Livingston.

But among never-married Americans under age 30, roughly two-thirds say that they eventually want to get married. And what is the top reason to marry? Regardless of age, 88% of Americans say, simply, it’s love.