Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

Wedding Porn Doesn’t Turn Us On: Age at 1st Marriage Has Never Been Higher

Matrimania marches on, but marriage doesn’t.

There's a local television ad that is all about a couple's wedding and their love for each other. Not until the last few seconds do we learn that the ad is for a bakery. I wasn't surprised that matrimania was being used to sell muffins. I keep track of such perversions. At the time I wrote Singled Out, my list of items advertised with wedding porn included "cereal and soft drinks; ice cream, chocolate, and cheese; dentistry, headache medication, eye drops, and body lotion; cars, clothes, shoes, credit cards, and lottery tickets; beer, cigarettes, and wine coolers; hotels, real estate, life insurance, and financial institutions" (from p. 15). Since the book was published, I have a new favorite addition: The bridal theme has also been used to sell motor oil. What was special about the bakery ad, though, was that the baked goods were essentially an afterthought; the ad was all about the marriage.

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Over at the Nation magazine, Katha Pollitt offered an important observation: Women aren't buying it. Reviewing the highs and lows for women during the past decade, she noted, "Despite oceans of wedding porn, women's age at first marriage rose over the decade."

Men aren't buying the wedding porn, either. The Census Bureau just released the latest figures for 2009. The median age at which men first marry - now 28.1 years old - is higher than it has ever been since the Census Bureau started recording such data in 1890. ("Median" means that half of the people marry before that age and half after.) Women have also never married later in life than they do now. Their median age at first marriage for 2009 is 25.9, a high they reached in 2008.

You can find the year-by-year "median age at first marriage" data here in Table MS-2. Below, I'm showing you the numbers from the turn of every decade from 1890 on. I also included the year at which men and women married at the youngest ages on record (1956 - though the men also married that young in 1959), and the most recent year (2009).

Median Age at First Marriage

Year  Men  Women

2009  28.1  25.9 (oldest)
2000  26.8  25.1
1990  26.1  23.9
1980  24.7  22.0
1970  23.2  20.8
1960  22.8  20.3
1956  22.5  20.1 (youngest)
1950  22.8  20.3
1940  24.3  21.5
1930  24.3  21.3
1920  24.6  21.2
1910  25.1  21.6
1900  25.9  21.9
1890  26.1  22.0

Notice that the 1950's, a time often believed to be the most "traditional" with regard to marriage, is actually the odd decade out. Americans have never married so young before or after that time.

The rising age at first marriage (among those who do marry) is one of the factors that contributes to my favorite statistic: Americans now spend more years of their adult lives unmarried than married. As I noted in a previous post, it is not just Americans who are spending more years single than they have in the past; the trend has gone global.

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., is author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. She is a visiting professor at UCSB.

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