Did He Get Married Too Young?

Albert Mohler

You have to give David Lapp credit. The 22-year-old young man knew what he wanted, and he got her -- a wife. It wasn't easy. When David and his wife Amber told her father that they wanted to get married (at ages 22 and 21, respectively), he hit the ceiling.

Thankfully, Amber's father changed his mind. The couple is now happily married, and David has told the whole world about it in an op-ed column for The Wall Street Journal. In the column, he deals head-on with objections to young marriage.

He writes, "As college-educated, professionally aspiring young adults in New York, my wife and I were bucking the prevailing social script by marrying in our early 20s." Indeed, the average age for first marriage for young men is now 28, and for women it is now 26. That reflects a significant change in the way Americans live, love, and marry. We now have the twin phenomena of delayed adulthood and extended adolescence. Young Americans, by and large, are not waiting for sex . . . but they are putting marriage off into a distant future.

As David Lapp reports, some social scientists argue that "early marriage" is a leading cause of marital breakup and divorce. Lapp puts that argument to flight with his point that the early marriages that fail are often teenage marriages.

In his words:

First, let's take a closer look at that term "early marriage." While it's true that teenage marriages are a significant predictor of divorce, it turns out that marriages of people in their early to mid-20s are not nearly as much at risk. According to a 2002 report from the Centers for Disease Control, 48% of people who enter marriage when under age 18, and 40% of 18- and 19-year-olds, will eventually divorce. But only 29% of those who get married at age 20 to 24 will eventually divorce—very similar to the 24% of the 25-and-older cohort. In fact, Hispanics who marry between the ages of 20 and 24 actually have a greater likelihood of marital success (31% chance of divorce) than those who first marry at age 25 and older (36% chance of divorce).

Add to this the fact that other studies indicate that couples who marry between the ages of 22 and 25 "went on to experience the happiest marriages." You don't hear about that on "Oprah."

Some parents object to early marriage because of financial concerns, but Lapp observes that marriage tends to produce thrift. As he explains, "Knowing that my spending and savings habits affect not just me but also my wife and future family, I'm more likely to set a budget, pack a lunch, and put some money in savings instead of buying that new iPhone. The upshot is that my wife and I are able to pay off our college debt more quickly than we could by ourselves."

Among the young, the leading objection to early marriage is probably the fact that marriage, by definition, creates boundaries to individual autonomy. Lapp cites psychologist Jeffrey Jensen, who has argued that many young adults fear marriage because it will limit or inhibit their "identity exploration" and "self-focused development.

Lapp is not opposed to exploration and fulfillment; he just thinks that marriage is a better way to get there and to enjoy the experience. "As focused as we young adults are on self-development, what if the path to that development is actually learning to live with and love another person?," he asks. "We may be startled to find that the greatest adventure lies not in knowing oneself as much as in knowing and committing to another person."

He adds, "Instead of trekking to Africa or exploring Rome alone, why not marry the person of your dreams and take him or her along?"

My wife, Mary, and I married young -- just a year older than David and Amber Lapp. We built our adult lives together, "emerged" into the experience of adulthood together, and have never looked back. We started with very little money, but that was considered normal for young couples in our day. Our first home was a very small furnished apartment. I rented the apartment before Mary saw it. When she asked where the kitchen was I sheepishly opened two slender folding doors. That was it. We started our financial lives together, developed our adult friends together, studied abroad on a wing and a prayer (and student rail passes), and dreamed big dreams. Looking back, we would not trade those years for anything.

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