The Human Beast

Why we do what we do

Can Young People Afford to Marry?

Even if they want to marry, young people face financial hurdles.

There are many reasons why young people choose not to marry. Singles probably have a better quality of life than ever before thanks to the service economy. Sex is no longer tied to marriage. Yet, one of the main reasons for staying single may be that young adults cannot afford it.

A weak economy inhibits marriage because it is hard to set up independent homes. This phenomenon occurred through many centuries of English history (1). During periods of food inflation, marriages dwindled and single parenthood increased. Today, inflation in housing and education are more important.

Low wages also increase difficulty in making ends meet. Men are eliminated from the marriage market because they do not earn enough to support their families (2). That is a key reason that marriage declined, and that single parenthood increased, in this country over the past half-century.

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Inflation reduces middle class marriage

In theory, the difficulty of making a living has far more of an impact on low-income families. Yet, inflation in education and housing seems to inhibit marriage for middle class people today, including those with degrees.

Even with a job, the average graduate has $26,600 in student loans and that debt acts as something of a millstone given that two-fifths of recipients fail to make payments at some point thereby incurring penalties (American Student Assistance, 2013).

At the same time, they are burdened by credit card debt with exorbitant and capriciously rising interest rates as high as 29.99 percent. The average student graduated college with a credit card debt of $4,100 (Credit Card Statistics).

Under such difficult financial conditions, the last thing a young person wants is the financial outlay of a formal wedding and the even more forbidding costs associated with buying a home. Forget about the onerous expenses of having children and paying for their food, accommodation, education, clothes, and health care!

The goal is economizing rather than increased spending. Those who move back in with Mom and Dad are likely to be either unemployed or underemployed and to be working in marginal, low-paid, jobs. The so-called boomerang generation do not want to be back living with their parents but do so under financial duress

So graduating college students who would be considered old enough to marry in earlier generations delay marriage. They may not want to commit themselves to a partner this soon. Even if they did, the economic deck is stacked against them.

Lets say that a couple throws caution to the wind. They get married and have a wedding reception. The average cost of this was $27,021 in 2011 (4). This expense used to be borne by the bride’s family but the bride herself is likely to play a more active role in planning and paying for the wedding if she has a job and many couples end up financing their weddings on credit cards.

Even without an expensive wedding reception, the average young couple is very far from being able to buy a home. They simply do not have the savings necessary for a down payment. Even if they did, they might not have sufficient earnings to qualify for a loan. So many of the young people buying homes today get help from relatives with the down payments and have their mortgages co-signed by parents.

Non marriage for economic reasons is a feature of low-income neighborhoods about which social scientists have written a lot (2). Now it appears that non marriage due to financial stress is creeping up the social ladder. Inflation in education costs and housing are key factors.

Conclusion

Marriage can mean taking on a lot of additional debt. Single people have a better standard of living and fewer responsibilities than their married friends.

Many young people are too financially strapped to think of marrying, or buying a home. First priorities may be to get out of debt and to live independently.

The good news is that young single people today have a much better quality of life than ever before thanks to a service economy that sells all the comforts of home from food takeout services to laundry and home cleaning (3). The bad news is that many face a lonelier middle age.

1. Abrahamson, M. (2000). Case studies of surges in nonmarital births. Marriage and Family Review, 30, 127-151.

2. Wilson, W. J. (1997). When work disappears: The world of the new urban poor. New York: Vintage.

3. Klinenberg, E. (2012). Going solo: The extraordinary rise and surprising appeal of living alone. New York: Penguin.

4. Jaeger, C. (2011). Wedding statistics from The Knot. http://www.theknotinc.com/press-releases-home/2011-press-releases...

Nigel Barber, Ph.D., is an evolutionary psychologist as well as the author of Why Parents Matter and The Science of Romance, among other books.

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