Since the 1950s, the age at which people have taken their marriage vows in the United States has steadily risen. Census Bureau statistics note that the median age of first-time brides and bridegrooms hovered around 20 in the 1950s. Now, that benchmark is nearly 30 — and it seems to be gradually going up. In 2017, the median age was 28; in 2005, it was 25.
24/7 Tempo reviewed data from the 2017 American Community Survey about married, divorced, separated, and never married as well as the 10-year growth in marriage rate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify in which states people marry young or wait several years.
Why are people waiting longer to get married? One reason is higher education, according to recent research by the Institute of Family Studies. More people get college degrees and hold off on marriage in order to build their careers. For example, Massachusetts, which has the oldest age for first-time marriages, at 30.6 years, also has the highest percentage of people with a bachelor’s or higher, at 43.4%. So there may be a correlation between education level and the age at first marriage.
Finances also factor into the equation. In 2018, Pew Research surveyed Millennials born between 1981-1996. When never-married Millennials were asked why they hadn’t gotten hitched, 29% said they didn’t feel financially prepared for marriage. Not finding the right person and believing they were too young to settle down were next at 26%.
Arielle Kuberberg, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina, told The Cut that young people delay taking vows until they get their financial house in order. “Financial stability is really important to couples before they enter marriage,” she said. “So couples want to pay down debt, maybe finish their education.”
The states where people marry at the youngest age also tend to have the lowest rates of people who have never married. A third of the population age 15 or older in the majority of states have never been married. Six of the 11 states where the percentage of never-married population is under 30% have among the youngest median age at first marriage. That would make sense since marrying at a younger age takes more people off the market, so to speak. Recently, we ranked the 11 states where most people are and stay married.
Yet it’s hard to infer why people are marrying well into the late 20s or 30s since it’s such a personal decision. Economics may be a factor. Some research suggests that as women have entered the workforce they may not have felt the urgency to find a mate for financial security. Also, living together without a marriage license is no longer taboo. Among those ages 18-24, more people living together unmarried than those who are married, according to data from the Census Bureau.
Another reason for delayed weddings is their cost. A 2018 study, conducted by online engagement ring retailer JamesAllen.com found that 30% of coupled postponed their wedding because it was too expensive. And some venues cost a lot more than others — here are the most expensive places to get married in America.
To identify the states where people marry old, 24/7 Tempo took the median age at first marriage for men and women in each state, then calculated a weighted average based on population distribution. Median age at first marriage by sex for each state, as well as the percent of the population that is married, divorced, separated, and never married comes from the American Community Survey 2017 1-Year Estimates, published by the U.S. Census Bureau. Marriage rate per 1,000 total population for 2017 and 10-year growth in marriage rate is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Vital Statistics System. All other data is from the ACS.