Millennials are waiting longer to create their own families, or to even set the stage for one. A recently released analysis by real estate firm Trulia shows millennials have been opting to move back home, putting off forming new households.
Forty percent of young adults (aged 18-34) are living with relatives. The rate of cohabitation for young people has risen slightly (12 percent to 16 percent), but the marriage rate has dropped double that margin (from 45 percent to 37 percent). The median age at first marriage is now 29 for men and 27 for women, up nearly half a decade from what it was in the 1980s. Pew Research Center found in 2012 that “1 in 5 adults aged 25 and over had never been married,” double its rate from 1960.
It’s not that Cupid has hung up his bow and young people are simply at a loss to connect (although there may be some of that): According to Pew’s survey, the public views the benefits of marriage and single life as basically equal: “According to the public, it is easier for a married person than a single person to raise a family (77% say so). But…most people do not think either married or single people have an easier time of it. In fact, about half or more think there is no difference between being married or single in the ease of having a fulfilling sex life, being financially secure, finding happiness, getting ahead in a career or having social status.”
So it seems marriage, especially young marriage, is depreciating societally. That’s a shame, because there are perks to marrying in one’s twenties that younger millennials might not recognize. Allow me to fill you in on a few of them.
1. Support When Working Crap Jobs
Your twenties are when you’re working the most hours at “crap jobs”—usually service jobs, like cleaning movie theater bathrooms, folding burritos, or getting sworn at over the phone by irate customers. Those jobs are unpleasant, but they’re less unpleasant when you have someone to go home and vent to, to encourage you, who sympathizes because he or she likely also works a crap job. Unlike in your teens, you’re depending on this job to feed you and keep a roof over your head, and that pressure adds more anxiety.
When my husband and I were first married, I was working the help desk at a computer lab and he was working at the local movie theater. My job was pretty low-key, but his was far less pleasant. A couple times he came home with burns on the inside of his forearms from cleaning out the popcorn machine. Frequently he related to me the horrors of cleaning the men’s bathroom. After that came his gig at Taco Bell, replete with employee drama and lunch hour pressures, while I commuted by bus for more than an hour to one of the more traditionally boring jobs of customer service at an office supply store.
These were far from dream jobs, or jobs we thought we’d be doing post-college. What made them bearable, even enriching (in a we’ll-look-back-on-this-and-appreciate-it way), was the fact that we were doing them together. When my husband came home with grease burns, I was there to sympathize. When I came home with aching feet because I had missed the bus after my shift and had to walk home, there was a hug waiting for me.
We also encouraged each other. Sometimes explicitly, with “You can do this” and “It’ll be better after this week,” but the real edification lay in the dialogue, working through our “work problems” together.
You might say a roommate or a best friend can provide the same support with fewer arguments, but I don’t think that’s the case. When you are as inextricably connected as two spouses who depend on each other not just for emotional support, but for survival, you reach a new level of care in addition to that anxiety—no one cares whether you get fired like a spouse does—and the soft skills necessary to administer that care must come with it. You may not care about the crap job itself, but your wife is depending on you not to screw it up.
You will fight and be frustrated with your spouse sometimes. That comes with the territory. But when you make it through that awful shift where the world was stacked against you for 12 long hours, you know that no one will appreciate that crap work like she will.
2. Financial Stability from Joint Income
Even when you’re working a crap job, your spouse is usually working, too (unless he or she is going to school, in which case grants and loans likely help pay the bills). So if one spouse loses a job, you have just a little more cushion than if you were single. You can make that unemployment check stretch just a little farther. That cushion only increases as you enter more lucrative professions, provided you don’t expand your lifestyle to the point that both your incomes almost wholly go toward monthly expenses.
Being married means cheaper living expenses, like for housing and food. Single people on average spend about $10,000 on housing expenses, while married people spend about $1,000 less. Of course, the married advantage could be much greater if the young couple elects to not rent a nicer apartment or buy a bigger house based on their combined income. Young newlyweds can essentially cut their previous housing expenses in half, including utilities and amenities like Internet and cable.
Additionally, joint incomes can boost your rate of savings and investment, so you have a little put aside for the wife to take a longer maternity leave (or for dad to take paternity leave, too), or maybe for both of you to retire early. Your incomes may start out small when you both are young, but they’re still more powerful the earlier you join them together. If managed responsibly, that power will only grow with your earning potential.
This is when you protest, “But making financial decisions with another person is difficult!” Well, sure, but if you plan on marrying at some point, realize that joint money management is key to a healthy marriage. The sooner you start, the less ingrained single money habits will be, and the easier it will be to adopt a team mentality.
3. More Flexibility in Having Children
Some couples want to jump on the baby train right away, but it’s common for newlyweds to want an adjustment period before opening that very long chapter of their lives, particularly if their courtship and engagement were short. You’ve spent two decades or longer getting to be who you are; it can take a little time in actual married life for your spouse to unpack and understand various aspects of your personality and how they play into your marital relationship (and yes, that can add stress to your life for a short time regardless of when you marry). Ironing out those wrinkles in communication and smoothing out some of the emotional snags isn’t a bad idea before making a baby.
When you marry young, you have some time for that without feeling the pressure of the biological clock the way more mature lovebirds do. Women are most fertile in their twenties. On the other side of 30, the pressure’s on, especially if you want more than one or two bundles of joy.
If you marry in your early twenties, you don’t just have time for lots of babies, you have time to space them out. The luxury of not putting your emotional and physical endurance in overdrive (even though young parents have more energy for parenting than older ones) is the advantage of spacing, and spacing is the advantage of people who marry young.
4. Finding Your Path in Life Together
A common theme in TV dramas is the idea that two people who seemed perfect for each other should break up because they need time to discover “who they are” and “what they’re doing with their life.” Some young people have bought into the lie that a period of self-discovery, of doing life solo, is a necessary precursor to marriage.
True, some people aren’t ready for marriage. They do need time on their own in order to mature and become marriage material. It’s one thing to take a gap year after college, or between college and high school, but it’s quite another to deliberately postpone looking for a potential spouse (or pushing away one) because you’re too busy developing a career or learning more about yourself.
When people inquire about my marriage, I often explain that one of the best parts of marrying young is that you discover “who you are” and where you’re going in life together. Life with a partner is so much more rewarding for me than what I imagine I’d be doing on my own.
My life isn’t any less full than it would have been were I single—it is more so. I didn’t need a definitive career track or a decade of single life to feel secure in my identity. In fact, it is my husband’s support, both emotionally and financially, that allows me to pursue my chief passion of writing to the degree I do. It is our union that has brought us our greatest joy and fulfillment in our daughter.
So don’t believe the myth that you need to spend years “discovering yourself” or building your solo life before you decide to build one with a spouse. Yes, life experience can bring wisdom to marriage, as it can in all areas of your life. But you needn’t delay marriage for the sake of the “single experience” or self-discovery; marrying young has its own set of benefits.