There's a billboard I see occasionally on my regional road-trips. A woman is holding up one finger, which is in focus, and her face is unfocused in the background. It looks vulgar--until you realize she's holding up her ring finger. The ad is for a jewelry company, I believe. The image is memorable, but like many ads, the sponsor is often easily forgotten. But I was reminded of this pro-marriage message as I read an article yesterday in The Washington Post by author and sociology professor Mark Regnerus titled, "Say Yes. What Are You Waiting For?" Here's an excerpt that challenges some of our current thinking:
In my research on young adults' romantic relationships, many women report feeling peer pressure to avoid giving serious thought to marriage until they're at least in their late 20s. If you're seeking a mate in college, you're considered a pariah, someone after her "MRS degree." Actively considering marriage when you're 20 or 21 seems so sappy, so unsexy, so anachronistic. Those who do fear to admit it -- it's that scandalous.
How did we get here? The fault lies less with indecisive young people than it does with us, their parents. Our own ideas about marriage changed as we climbed toward career success. Many of us got our MBAs, JDs, MDs and PhDs. Now we advise our children to complete their education before even contemplating marriage, to launch their careers and become financially independent. We caution that depending on another person is weak and fragile. We don't want them to rush into a relationship. We won't help you with college tuition anymore, we threaten. Don't repeat our mistakes, we warn. ...
But our children now sense that marrying young may be not simply foolish but also wrong and socially harmful. And yet today, as ever, marriage wisely entered into remains good for the economy and the community, good for one's personal well-being, good for wealth creation and, yes, good for the environment, too. We are sending mixed messages. ...
Of course, there's at least one good statistical reason to urge people to wait on the wedding. Getting married at a young age remains the No. 1 predictor of divorce. So why on earth would I want to promote such a disastrous idea? For three good reasons:
First, what is considered "early marriage" by social scientists is commonly misunderstood by the public. The best evaluations of early marriage -- conducted by researchers at the University of Texas and Penn State University -- note that the age-divorce link is most prominent among teenagers (those who marry before age 20). Marriages that begin at age 20, 21 or 22 are not nearly so likely to end in divorce as many presume.
Second, good social science pays attention to gender differences. Most young women are mature enough to handle marriage. According to data from the government's National Survey of Family Growth, women who marry at 18 have a better shot at making a marriage work than men who marry at 21. There is wisdom in having an age gap between spouses. For women, age is (unfortunately) a debit, decreasing fertility. For men, age can be a credit, increasing their access to resources and improving their maturity, thus making them more attractive to women. We may all dislike this scenario, but we can't will it away.
Third, the age at which a person marries never actually causes a divorce. Rather, a young age at marriage can be an indicator of an underlying immaturity and impatience with marital challenges -- the kind that many of us eventually figure out how to avoid or to solve without parting. Unfortunately, well-educated people resist this, convinced that there actually is a recipe for guaranteed marital success that goes something like this: Add a postgraduate education to a college degree, toss in a visible amount of career success and a healthy helping of wealth, let simmer in a pan of sexual variety for several years, allow to cool and settle, then serve. Presto: a marriage with math on its side.
There's much more in this piece, so I encourage you to read the rest of it on the Post's website. It's a piece about trends, so please don't be tempted to despair if you (or someone you love) are no longer twenty-something and still hoping for marriage. I posted this because I think it's good that we as a society rethink the value of marriage and reconsider the benefits of this God-ordained institution. But on a personal level, I want to encourage you because I have seen many answers to prayer lately among women who surveyed their circumstances and felt somehow they possibly might not get married. Fortunately, they serve a mighty God who is still answering prayers--even the faint-hearted, half-hoping, half-doubting prayers of those with a hope deferred. To Him belongs all the glory!