So what are young adults to make of the research that finds married couples are actually at a higher “well-being” than ever before, at least in the United States?
It’s a puzzle because in the past, researchers have found unmarried young adults are actually happier than married ones.
In the 1990s, American women under age 25 felt happier and healthier than married women.
This was not the case in the mid-20th century, but for the first time, college-age women were reporting that they were better off than their married peers. Researchers found marriage was hurting women’s well-being, and often marriage was hurting women’s family functioning.
Marriage Helps Young Couples Find God
When college-age men were compared to their married counterparts, they were happier, too. This surprised researchers, because in the past, men had reported greater unhappiness than marriage. But here, marriage appeared to be helping men’s well-being as much as it had helped their female peers.
These studies were a real eye-opener.
For one thing, they suggested that marriage may actually be a predictor of overall happiness for women, which was in itself a big revelation. For another, the findings were a shot in the arm to the “capstone model” for women.
After all, in the capstone model, marriage is supposed to be the final frontier of American womanhood—the culmination and fulfillment of all that goes into the construction of a womanhood worthy of the institution of marriage.
So women couldn’t be really happy with marriage if they hadn’t done all this work and gotten to this point.
Happiness In Young Couples
But the study of happiness also found that unmarried young adults were less happy than those who were married. Young college men were less happy than their married peers, and young college women were less happy than married women.
This was not the case for older people. It was true, though, that in the past, married people of both sexes tended to be happier than unmarried ones.
Marriage also seems to make young adults’ lives better for their families. Married couples are more happy when you compare them to unmarried couples. But for the first time, you also find that, for both men and women, married families are happier than single-headed ones.
What Do The Studies Show?
The marriage studies show that unmarried people don’t only feel worse by the time they get married. Marital life is stressful, but marriage itself appears to make things better.
The capstone model is a double-edged sword, but one way it has helped American women was by making them more happy. But these studies also found that men who marry—even if they divorce—are happier and healthier than men who never marry.
So what’s the answer? Does marriage make us happy? Should we be married young, or does marriage make it harder to be happy?
At least for women, the research suggests there’s a good answer to both.
In a word: not.
While all young adults are supposed to aspire to be married, this doesn’t mean they should rush to the altar. For one thing, marriage is often more difficult for women, especially in their early 20s.
The capstone model implies young women should be having all their ducks in a row—a college degree, a professional job, a solid identity. Young women in their early 20s who enter marriage out of a sense of duty rather than love may find that it’s not fulfilling.
For one, women who marry younger have more time to “catch up” on these things because they start a family sooner than men do. But beyond that, what young women need is a healthy sense of self, and being in a relationship with someone they know well can give them insight into what’s important.
So for the women in their early 20s struggling to find their way in a world that sometimes doesn’t understand them, marriage isn’t the panacea it’s made out to be.
As for men, they’ve also benefited from this marriage “revolution,” too. Young men tend to be healthier than young women; when they marry, that tends to balance out. But the marriage studies also found that men who marry tend to be happier than men who don’t—and that’s true of men no matter how old they are. This doesn’t mean that men also don’t need to marry, but it does mean that when they do, they’re less likely to feel unhappier or more depressed than unmarried men.
Why Marriage Is Important For Young Couples
Marriage is important, but what’s been most significant, in my opinion, is the growing body of evidence that marriage is less important than it’s thought to be. We should not make marriage a requirement for happiness; rather, we should be supporting the happiness of young adults before marriage.
A single-parent household doesn’t make young people unhappy, and most Americans report they would prefer to grow up without marrying.
So you want to marry, but how do you do it?
Marriage is not for everyone. Women in their 20s are far more likely to have children on their own. And even though some of them don’t, their peers see them as “missing out” because they’re not married with children.
These young women often have high hopes for having kids, and then, when they’re in their 20s with no children of their own, their friends and family can see them as failures.
So while there are some good arguments for being a young mother, the reality is that many young women don’t have children for one of two reasons.
Either they don’t want children or they want children but they find they’re not ready.
One study found that single women who had had a baby at some point in their lives reported that, while they were pregnant, they felt closer to their mothers, but once the baby was born, they felt closer to their fathers. So the baby was not the bond between them, only the prospect of having one.
How Children Impact Younger Couples
When young women do have children, they worry about being a good mother, and they find that being a young parent can be more difficult than they expect. These studies find they’re more likely to have physical symptoms than women who are more mature, and more likely to experience depression.
A lot of young parents get divorced.
That’s because the marriage studies show that women who marry earlier have more problems in their relationships than their unmarried peers do.
But that’s not to say young women who marry should not have children. Most single women do want children. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau found in a recent report that in 2014, about 90 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44 indicated they wanted at least one child in their lifetime.
The point is that young adults should not feel they have to get married in order to have children. There’s a big difference between wanting to have children and wanting to get married. Many people want kids, but they do not want to get married.
Marriage can be a happy and satisfying part of a woman’s life, but having children does not have to be.
Young adults should also take into account the fact that, at least for many young, single women, marriage doesn’t necessarily mean they have to put off having sex.
According to some studies, the longer a young woman delays having sex, the more likely she is to get pregnant.