Think We're All Getting Married Too Late? Think Again.

Depending on how you look at it, Americans are getting married much earlier than their great-grandparents.

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Everyone knows the average age of marriage is climbing. Young Americans are all waiting way longer than their parents and grandparents before getting hitched.

Except that’s not entirely true. The Census Bureau recently put up a fascinating blog post turning the conventional wisdom about ever-delayed marriage on its head.

First off, yes, we are all getting married later and later these days … but only if you start measuring in the 1950s. In fact, from 1890 to the mid-1950s, the median age of first marriage for men fell by roughly three years, and the median age for women fell by around two years, according to this chart.

[READ: Nancy Pelosi on Marriage: Meh]


This trend puts all that talk about how marriage ages are climbing into a new perspective, writes Jonathan Vespa, a demographer with the bureau.

“Looking at trends since 1890 reveals a U-shaped curve in which the 1950s and 1960s stand out as the exception for marriage, not the norm,” he says.

Still, it is undeniable the median age of first marriage is later now than it was in 1890. But you could count another way: When you look at the age of first marriage compared to life spans, Americans are getting married earlier than they were in the late 19th century. The below chart shows that men in 1890 were married for less than half of their lives. Today, it’s nearly two-thirds.

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The trends are similar for women, who once got married nearly halfway through their life spans, but today wait only about one-third of their lives.

What it means is that even though Americans are getting married later than they once were, those marriages also can last much longer.

However, marriages are undeniably happening later in life than they once did in one other important way: they are now happening after the milestone of having children. As one report found last year, the median age of first marriage in the U.S. moved past the median age of first childbirth around a quarter century ago.