Monday, November 21, 2005

The Twentysomething Bride is the Happiest Wife

One of the most interesting family findings to appear recently is that women who marry in their mid-twenties are happier than teen brides or older brides. In “With This Ring,” the marriage survey of the National Fatherhood Initiative that I wrote about a few days ago , the ubiquitous and excellent Norval Glenn reported that women who married in their mid-twenties reported the highest rates of marital success. Success was measured by a combination of stability and happiness. Teen brides, as is well known, are not likely to have stable marriages. The new finding is that women who marry for the first time after 27 report stable marriages, but they are notably less happy than those of women who marry between 23 and 27. The key finding is that of the older brides who had never divorced, “more than 45 percent were in marriages they reported to be less than ‘very happy,’ a much larger percentage than was the case for respondents who married younger.”

Let me say before I go on that if you were a teen bride, an older bride, or past 27 and not yet married, you are not doomed. Many teen marriages endure; most post-27 brides have happy marriages.

It is not so surprising that teen marriages tend to be stormier and break up at high rates. Teenagers are more likely to marry impetuously (and pregnant), and the odds are not good that a teen couple will mature in complementary ways as they work their way out of adolescence. The cure for teen-age impulsiveness is marriage when you are more mature. 25-year-old brides make more mature marriages than 15 year olds do. So why doesn’t the same principle apply at later ages, as well? The intriguing question is, why would older brides be less happy?

I don’t know the answer to this question, and I don’t think anyone else does, either. I feel free, therefore, to offer two speculative possibilities.

One possible reason is that after a point a man and a woman become too set in their ways to fully grow together, to shape one another as the marriage matures. Two mature people may find one another lovable and suitable partners, but some of the plasticity of young adults is already gone. This can make for an effective partnership. As I noted earlier, happiness is not the only purpose of marriage, or even the main point.

Another possibility is that the ticking biological clock makes women more impetuous in their marital choices. Sylvia Ann Hewlett, in Creating a Life, reports fairly recent research that the quality of a woman’s eggs start to fall off sharply after about 27 years. Though many young women consciously think that they have all of their 30s, even their 40s, to find a husband and start having children, their bodies may be giving them subconscious clues starting in their late 20s that it may be time to stop waiting for Mr. Right, and take Mr. OK.

In The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton reports a brutal proverb of a century ago, that a woman is like a Christmas cake: no one wants her after the 25th. It is a very good thing that women today have many more options than the desperate marital search Wharton ably chronicled then. It is also a good thing that men and women can make a happy marriage, including having children, well past their 25th birthdays. Nonetheless, it is interesting to note that the average age of first marriage for women is now about 25. This represents a significant rise from the Baby Boom-producing years. The fact that most brides are in their mid-twenties may be more than a current statistical artifact. Perhaps American marriages are, in this one respect, at least, at an ideal benchmark.

11 comments:

Reginleif said...

Though many young women consciously think that they have all of their 30s, even their 40s, to find a husband and start having children, their bodies may be giving them subconscious clues starting in their late 20s that it may be time to stop waiting for Mr. Right, and take Mr. OK.

Good thing that more and more women who realize they've never wanted children — like myself — now have the freedom to say this out loud, and not feel pressured into settling for a so-so relationship just because OMG GOTTA MAKE TEH BAYBEEEZ!!!

Gruntled said...

Which is fair enough. Hewlett was concerned with a large number of ambitious young women who had no realistic idea of how hard it would be to have babies later if they did want to. I find that error among some of my students, as well. If you are not worried about babies in the first place, many other options open.

s.kimbro said...

Some feminists may balk at this, but maybe it would be useful considering Hewlett’s findings if the general college education included more realistic (and required) dialogue about life choices, such as relationships and raising children. Not sure where this dialogue would fit into a course or even if I would have paid attention to it at that age. The consequences of wanting children and how that will affect you as a woman later in life (and especially the fact that women are operating on a pretty narrow time-table) are really the last thing on your mind when you are single, young and excited about applying to graduate schools. In retrospect, a reality check coming from my professors or an academic advisor of some kind would have been beneficial - or at least lessened some of the frustrations later on. Then again, how could a professor or mentor have phrased it in a PC way without the fear of sounding sexist or discriminating, or for that matter, discouraging academically?

Gruntled said...

"Then again, how could a professor or mentor have phrased it in a PC way without the fear of sounding sexist or discriminating, or for that matter, discouraging academically?"

That is half the difficulty -- I have the advantage of tenure, a thick skin, and a genial demeanor. But others might rightly fear the thought police for even mentioning the trade-offs of children vs. work.

The other half of the difficulty is that the natural discipline to treat this question is mine - sociology - yet the discipline is largely committed to the view that and family/work conflicts can and should be handled by more state-funded daycare. And many of the leaders of the professional at the moment are childless.

Rachel said...

The new finding is that women who marry for the first time after 27 report stable marriages, but they are notably less happy than those of women who marry between 23 and 27.

Maybe we're mistaken by interpreting this to mean that marrying later in life causes a less happy marriage... maybe it's just that less happy people marry later in life.

Gruntled said...

Yes, there is always the selection problem. Still, I know women who just don't think about marriage through their twenties, in part because they thought that it would be better - more mature - to marry later. As with any kind of social knowledge, it may be useful to apply to your own family. If a signficant proportion of women do marry at 25 because they know about this finding, then the social facts will change. This is what reflexive sociology is all about.

liberalbanana said...

Very interesting post! I'm 25 and it almost made me start hyper-ventilating. But luckily, I'm a smart woman who won't be pressured by society to marry or do ANYTHING I'm not really up for. Marriage is definitely less of a pressure when you're 95% sure you don't want kids, I have to say. And if I change my mind later in life, then so be it. I've heard from plenty of people who have said that if you think you might not want kids, then take consider that seriously. It's a HUGE decision (obviously). I've already seen one of my friends get divorced, and my parents were divorced when I was three, so that kind of stuff also has an effect on one's marriage decisions. It's not that I haven't gotten married because of my career - honestly, I'd love to marry a guy who would let me NOT work and just do volunteer projects for the rest of my days. But finding a guy like THAT who's also compatible in every other way is like a needle in a haystack, so I'm not holding my breath. :)

Gruntled said...

Children of divorce tend to put off marriage for a long time, for fear of choosing wrongly. Does that affect you, do you think?

liberalbanana said...

Fear of choosing wrongly? Not my issue, actually. I've dated plenty of guys and feel like I know what I'm looking for. The guy I've been dating for nearly three years is a real gem compared to many men out there. So as for being scared of making the wrong choice, it's not really a fear of mine because unfortunately, I don't see marriage as the commitment most do. I've come to see it as something you can most certainly get out of if you want to, for whatever reason your little heart desires. (Both parents have been married multiple times.) And I'm also putting it off because I'm a very independent, happy-to-be-by-myself woman who enjoys having plenty of time to herself at home. I'm just not ready to come home to someone every single night for the rest of my life. I know there can be "independent" couples, and maybe I just need to grow up a little more, but I'm just not ready to deal with that at this point in time. I see it this way: if I'm in a loving, caring, honest relationship - what difference is marriage going to make? Why potentially ruin what we have now by being forced to see each other ALL THE TIME? (Or does that say that maybe I'm not with the right guy?? I happen to think he's a wonderful catch.)

Gruntled said...

Individuals are different, and you are certainly free to pick any path that works for you. As a sociologist, I would be willing to say that of a hundred women who thought they didn't want to have children at 25, most would change their minds by 35, and most of the rest would have regrets at 45. You may be the exception which, as you noted at the outset, gives you other options.

bhattathiri said...

he American justice Dept. have recently approved the power of yoga and
meditation for happy marriage life vide a recent judgement in the American court.” Man Who Slapped
Wife Sentenced to Yoga, It's Anger Management, Says Judge." First there was
house arrest. Now there's yoga. A judge ordered a man convicted of slapping
his wife to take a yoga class as part of his one-year probation. "It's part
of anger management," County Criminal Court at Law Judge Larry Standley said
of the ancient Hindu philosophy of exercise and well-being. "For people who
are into it, it really calms them down. " Standley, a former prosecutor,
said the case of James Lee Cross was unique. Cross, a 53-year-old car
salesman from Tomball, explained that his wife was struggling with a
substance abuse problem and that he struck her on New Year's Eve during an
argument about her drinking. "He was trying to get a hold of her because she
has a problem," Standley said after the court hearing. "I thought this would
help him realize that he only has control over himself." The sentence came
as a surprise to Cross, who was told to enroll in a class and report back to
Standley on his progress. "I'm not very familiar with it," Cross said of
yoga. "From what I understand, it may help in a couple ways, not only as far
as mentally settling, but maybe a little weight loss." Darla Magee, an
instructor at Yoga Body Houston in River Oaks, said she would recommend that
Cross take a basic yoga class emphasizing breathing and including a variety
of postures -- forward bends, back bends and twists. "Yoga can help us to
get rid of many emotional issues we might have," she said. "It's a spiritual
cleanse." Prosecutor Lincoln Goodwin agreed to a sentence of probation
without jail time because Cross had no significant criminal history
http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/metropolitan/2365341.
Yoga which is one of the greatest Indian contribution to the world has got
vast potential in all fields. In Tihar jail India Yoga is experimented among
the inmates and found successful. Their criminal mentality is changed. This
study aimed at investigating the effect of Vipassana Meditation (VM) on
Quality of Life (QOL), Subjective Well-Being (SWB), and Criminal Propensity
(CP) among inmates of Tihar Jail, Delhi. To this effect the following
hypotheses were formulated. 1. There will be a significant positive effect
of VM on the QOL of inmates of Tihar jail. 2. VM will have a positive and
significant effect on SWB of inmates. 3. Criminal propensity (CP) of inmates
will decrease significantly after attending the VM course. 4. There will be
significant difference in SWB and CP of experimental (Vipassana) group and
control (non-Vipassana) group. 5. Male and female inmates will differ
significantly in SWB and CP, as a result of VM. In the famous "Time"
magazine the importance meditation and yoga, an ancient Indian system, is
high-lighted that the ancient mind- and spirit-enhancing art is becoming
increasingly popular and gaining medical legitimacy. It is a multi billion
dollar business in US. In many Universities it is accepted as subject and
included in the Syllabus. In the latest famous book "Inspire! What Great
Leaders Do" written by Mr.Lance Secretan recently published by John Wiley
and sons, the benefit of meditation is elaborately described for good
corporate governance. By practicing transcendental meditation, or TM, many
people have got relief from back pain, neck pain, depression. The mind calms
and quiets, . What thoughts you have during meditation become clearer, more
focused. Anger, anxiety and worries give way to a peace. In the world
exorbitant medical expenses one can definitely make use of meditation.
Maharshi Mahesh Yogi and Sri Ravi Sankar are popularizing this. The Iyengar
Yoga institute in US is famous.
In Bhagavad-Gita Gita Lord Krishna has inspired Arjuna to rise from his
depression by preaching Gita in the battlefield and to rise from the
depression to do his duties. In Holy Gita we can see, being hidden by the
cosmic overview of any institution beset with myriad problems, not the least
of which is its lack of moral probity, there is a groundswell of educated
people seeking answers to deeply personal but universally asked questions.
Chie Executives taking lessons from yoga, meditation and learning how to
deal with human resources equations in an enlightened manner. Individuals
from every walk of life can get ideas of how to be better human beings, more
balanced and less stressed out.
Medical studies continue to show regular meditation working magic in
reducing blood pressure and stress-related illnesses, including heart
disease.