The average age of Americans at the time of their first marriage has risen substantially in the last decade. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median age at first marriage is 28.7 for males and 26.7 for females — the oldest age since the United States began recording this data in the 1890s.
Despite the statistics, the entertainment and media industries often promote a contrasting view. In movies and television shows, men and women in their early twenties are often pressured by parents or friends to begin searching for potential marriage partners before they reach a certain age.
Magazines that target middle and high school girls offer advice on finding partners, while publications geared towards college women regularly publish articles on what to do when your friends tie the knot and you’re still single.
Celebrities make headlines when they begin romantic relationships and make even more headlines when these relationships end. Figures like Russell Brand and Zooey Deschanel, who are each past the median age for first marriage and professed their love for their spouses in countless interviews, still end up divorced.
Not a great message to send to impressionable young people. And for college students in particular, celebrity examples may have more relevance than we realize.
Celebrity marriages may appear love-filled, but how much time are such busy people really spending getting to know each other and developing their relationships? Brand and Katy Perry are tremendously successful in their respective fields, as are Deschanel and Ben Gibbard.
Though celebrities often come across as unrealatable to us, the effects of the celebrity lifestyle are not unlike the struggle of balancing social relationships with the demands of a college education.
This begs an interesting question: Do public figures and statistics influence students’ personal ideas about marriage?
Ross Twele, a graduate student in UNC-Chapel Hill’s history department, got engaged at 23, but he recognizes a sharp difference between his relationship with his fiancée and other college students’ relationships. In other students, Ross noticed an inability to make relationships work because of the academic and professional responsibilities that college entails.
“When you’re only seeing someone a couple times a week and talking a few times more than that, you can’t get to know each other,” Twele says. Now 24, Twele attributes the success of his three-year-plus relationship with his fiancée to the fact that they participated in similar activities outside of class and spent time together almost every day.
Tedd Wimperis, a graduate student in UNC-Chapel Hill’s classics department, describes himself as romantic but isn’t looking for a relationship anytime soon. “I think back to where I was in life just a few years ago and laugh at the silly things I did,” says Wimperis, 22. “It takes time to discern what you want from a lifelong companion, so having enough maturity to fully comprehend that commitment is vital to a married relationship.”
For both Twele and Wimperis, and likely many other students, divorce rates and median ages aren’t warning signs against getting married, but proof that marriage isn’t something that should be entered into lightly.
“When you see figures like these, it emphasizes the reality that marital relationships can be a challenge,” Wimperis says. “Not to say that true love can’t exist, but one shouldn’t enter into that union without fully thinking through the decision, and being prepared for the natural bumps along the road.”
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