In This Story:
- Brigham Young University
- Chattanooga State Community College
- Purdue University
- University of Michigan
- University of Virginia
- Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
- Wellesley College
It’s Friday night and Zach Mariner, a 21-year-old senior at Virginia Tech, just got off from work. But instead of meeting up with his buddies at a bar or campus party, he heads home.
There, he enjoys dinner and watches TV with his wife, Mikaela Mariner, a junior at Chattanooga State Community College.
They began dating in 2007, when Zach was a high school freshman and Mikaela was in eighth grade. After more than two-years of long distance dating and then a two-year engagement, they tied the knot last August. Zach was 21 and Mikaela, 20.
The Mariners know they’re an anomaly – on average, women and men marry when they are 26.5 and 28.7 respectively, a record high, according to an analysis of U.S. Census Data. But neither statistics nor trends deterred them. They simply knew it was the right time.
“When you know, you know,” says Zach. “I don’t think people should make decisions based on what other people think or do.”
For those who are not as sure, a computer program can help make the decision.
Time’s web app, which launched this week, calculates your ideal marriage date, complete with a countdown to the wedding deadline.
The predictor determines the user’s ideal marriage age using a Facebook newsfeed, to calculate the median age at which friends changed their Facebook relationship status to “married,” “engaged,” “in a domestic partnership” or “in a civil union.”
The app advised Zach to marry at 24. “That’s definitely a bit younger than I was expecting,” he says.
The app’s release near Valentine’s Day is convenient for college students who may not be as sure about timing as the Mariners were but are still curious.
Valentine’s Day is, after all, the second more popular day for proposals. This is what Chillisauce, an event planning website, found after surveying 7,000 people.
Helen Driftmier, a Wellesley College senior, is single this Valentines Day and decided to test Time’s app. It told her that since she had less than 10 married Facebook friends, it couldn’t determine the right age for her.
Driftmier finds irony in receiving this result on the day before Valentines Day.
Perhaps Driftmier isn’t losing out on too much — The younger you marry, the higher the risk of divorce, according to Bradford Wilcox, director of The National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.
“Marrying young is difficult in our society, unless you’re embedded in a supportive community, like a religious group,” Wilcox says.
Brian Willoughby, assistant professor at Brigham Young University’s School of Family Life, agrees that family, friends and religion are effective stabilizers for those who marry early. A young couple may prosper if their community shares the same lifestyle and values.
Annie Stoker, a sophomore at Purdue University, and her husband, Chris, are Mormons who frequently hang out with other Mormon couples who are still in college.
The Stokers dated for about six months, during which they overcame the challenges of long distance dating while Annie was a freshman at BYU and Chris was in Indiana. Once married, Annie transferred to Purdue to live with her husband.
At BYU, 98.5% of students are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“A quarter of BYU students are married,” Willoughby says. “So they support each other.”
Ciarah Cook, a senior at BYU, is not yet married. But she was surprised to get 23 as her ideal age for marriage from the app.
“In the LDS culture that’s actually pretty old so I’m a little surprised that’s how [the] average played out” she says. “But it doesn’t need to be me! […] I’m young and independent and in school.”
Wilcox and Willoughby say research shows the majority of young Americans perceive marriage as a barrier to professional goals. Marriage is considered a capstone – a culmination after checking through a long list of getting the first house, the car, the job and success.
Driftmier agrees with this view of marriage. “I have no focus on marriage right now,” she says.
Cook says it bothers her that sometimes people say things because it’s considered strange to graduate single from BYU.
Willoughby advises college students to get married when it feels natural and when they find the right person, not when their friends are getting married.
“Our peers can create social pressure for us and give us “norms” that create stress,” he says. “It seems like we get out of touch but people should get married when they are ready.
Cook concludes, “I do hate Valentines!”
But she isn’t the only one. A team of researchers from a partnership of three universities found only 24% of Americans love Valentine’s Day.
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