Thursday, January 18, 2007

Marriage Age Among LDS Church Members Climbing

Latter-day Saint young adults have had mixed reactions to the trend showing an increase in the average marriage age among LDS church members.

Although the 2000-2003 U.S. Census Bureau data showed Utah had the lowest average age of marriage in the country—about 24 years of age for men and 22 for women, some three years younger than the national average for each gender—the age has increased among Latter-day Saints, said Elder Dallin H. Oaks, member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

“This tendency to postpone adult responsibilities, including marriage and family, is surely visible among our LDS young adults,” said Elder Oaks at a CES Fireside in 2005. “The average age at marriage has increased in the last few decades, and the number of children born to LDS married couples has decreased.”

BYU students have also seen signs of the tendency to delay marriage.

“People are scared of commitment,” said Dean Stonehocker, 24, s sociology major from Bonners Ferry, Idaho. “Girls don’t want to get married as much as they did when my parents went to college. They talk about it, but they run away.”

In the 1994 book "Contemporary Mormonism," a compilation of information about the LDS Church, data showed the average marriage age for Latter-day Saints was 22.3 years for males and 21.0 years for females. Although the average marriage age for Utahns may not mirror that of Latter-day Saints, there is a strong correlation between the two.

Bruce Chadwick, a sociology professor at BYU, said he noted the change in marriage age and attitudes among the LDS population.

"You can see the age of marriage has moved up," Chadwick said. "It used to be that you would see someone come back from a mission and get married in 6 months; now, you see people unmarried in their mid-30s."

The current economic situation demands a higher level of education, which sometimes causes delays in marriage, Chadwick said.

"People say 'I can't get married.' It's a big responsibility and they fear one of the spouses would have to drop out of school."

While some adults are anti-marriage, most Latter-day Saints plan on getting married, Chadwick said. However, a need for financial security, higher education and a desire to buy luxuries lead some people to put marriage on the backburner.

The push for education is often misinterpreted as a priority that replaces marriage, Stonehocker said. Even prominent media figures are joining in on the bandwagon when it comes to putting off marriage.

"It's kind of a world trend," Stonehocker said. "Dr. Laura says you shouldn't get married until you're 30."

Stonehocker bemoaned the societal consequences of this trend, such as later marriages resulting in fewer children. This has led to a decreased population in Europe, while in the United States the birthrate has led to only minor population growth recently. Possible pitfalls include a social security crisis resulting from too few youth to care for the elderly, Stonehocker said.

Waiting for marriage has both good and bad repercussions, Chadwick said. On one hand, couples may be more mature if they are older when they get married. On the other hand, waiting longer for marriage can cause some to fall into temptation and moral sin, Chadwick said.

Benjamin Groves, 21, a sophomore from Naches, Wash., majoring in molecular biology, said he noticed a lot of people putting off marriage in his mission country of Nicaragua. Men would return home from missions, lose sight of their goals and fail to seek out a future spouse. They decided to get an education and a job before marriage. Groves said people who weren't married by the time they were 30 years old may have become accustomed to single life, and therefore were comfortable in the lifestyle, sapping them of their desire to find their better halves.

Female BYU students shared similar opinions.

Rikki Purdy, a freshman from Peachtree City, Ga., said the media emphasize career first, then marriage, while highlighting pretty, stable, single women who can live a financially independent lifestyle.

Purdy said she plans to enjoy her youth while she can.

"You're only young once and there's only a certain amount of time to do things married couples can't," she said. "I love the idea of being an independent musician before I have to settle down and think about marriage."

Heather Wilcox, a sophomore from Peachtree City, Ga., said the emphasis on career and education has changed perceptions about the importance of marriage and motherhood.

Additionally, current social ideology emphasizes later marriage, Wilcox said.

"I think timing in marriage is something very personal and something a young woman can only know for herself," she said. "I would hope that young women today don't put off marriage for temporal or selfish reasons, but do make the time to be certain that such an important decision is right."

Stonehocker said people should actively search for a spouse, but not simply rush into marriage.

"People don't need to be jumping in unprepared, but they need to be willing to jump in," Stonehocker said.

And Groves' final advice?

"Go get married, then find me a date," he said.

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