Early Marriage Finding More Advocates

Young people who, under the sway of raging hormones, simply cannot hold back from having sex should just get married say some US Evangelical leaders. An article in Christianity Today magazine, the flagship publication of the US Evangelical protestant world, titled, "The Case for Early Marriage" says that more "chastity training" will not work to keep young people from having sex before marriage.

Mark Regnerus, a professor of sociology at the University of Texas and author of the book "Forbidden Fruit: Sex & Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers ", wrote that while over 90 per cent of Americans have pre-marital sex, despite a strong official enthusiasm for chastity and virginity in the subculture, a majority, nearly 80 per cent, of conservative Christians in the US, do not wait until marriage.

Regnerus asserts that the emphasis on "discouraging" and "delaying" marriage among Americans, including Evangelicals, has damaged the institution. He says the community has to return to encouraging young people to marry, a daunting prospect, he says, given the hostility the suggestion garners among the general public.

"To esteem marriage in the public sphere today is to speak a foreign language: you invoke annoyance, confusion, or both," he wrote. But, despite Christians making "much ado" about sex, they are becoming "slow and lax" about marriage.

In an April op-ed in the Washington Post, Regnerus blamed the parents of today’s 20-somethings, who focused on academia and career success, putting marriage on the backburner.

"Many of us got our MBAs, JDs, MDs and PhDs. Now we advise our children to complete their education before even contemplating marriage, to launch their careers and become financially independent," he wrote.

It has been one of the most-recorded, but least talked-about statistical changes surrounding the family through the 20th century. In 1930 the median age for men to marry was 24.3 years; for women it was 21.3. This was higher than the ages between 1950 and 1960 when men married at about 22.8 years and women at about 20.3 years. Since 1960, however, the age range has steadily risen to 27.7 years for men and 26 for women by 2007.

Expecting young people to wait through a large portion of their reproductive years for sex is unrealistic and a case of "battling our creator’s reproductive designs".

Fox News interviewed a number of young Evangelical Christians and quoted a young songwriter and guitarist, Jay Mkrtschjan who had planned to marry his sweetheart, Megan, at 20 but held off a year under parental pressure. He said, "By getting married young and dating for a shorter period of time, it leaves less room to sin sexually."

"For me, it was really a trust issue," Megan said. "Marrying right out of college was showing our friends, showing the people we were acquainted with, that we trusted our lives with God."

In the Catholic Church, it was once common for clergy and parents to encourage their children to marry. But the culture of feminism and careerism has made advances in the Catholic community. Fr. Michael P. Orsi, a chaplain and research fellow in law & religion at the Ave Maria School of Law in Michigan, maintains that the trend for later marriage "or no marriage has been the cause of a great deal of our social deterioration".

"While many sit wringing their hands over the seeming demise of marriage as an institution and the concomitant breakdown in sexual ethics, none are willing to state the most obvious reason-it is being delayed too long," Fr. Orsi wrote in his 2001 essay "A Case for Earlier Marriage ".  Orsi points to the high incidence of pre-marital sex, increasing rates of infertility and the growth of the abortion industry, the rise of homosexual activity, the widespread use of artificial birth control as symptoms of the trend.

An article in the November 4, 2005 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, tracked a shift in the demographics of childbearing. Americans delaying marriage are also having children later and less often. The number of first births per 1,000 women 35 to 39 years of age increased by 36 percent between 1991 and 2001, and the rate among women 40 to 44 years of age increased by 70 percent. This while most fertility specialists agree that the ideal age for child bearing remains the early 20s.

With the age of marriage getting steadily higher, the age at which young people first have sex is well below. According to the National Survey of Family Growth and the National Survey of Adolescent Males, the median ages of first intercourse are 16.9 years for boys and 17.4 years for girls.

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  • Terri Kimmel

    The “epidemic” of fertility problems among people I know is undeniable. Many of them marry late then still wait several years before being open to children. It’s foolish. I’ve read that a woman’s fertility is decreased by half by the time she is 27.

    My husband and I married at 21 and I was pregnant within 6 weeks. We were both college students. My older, sexually-active sibling told me that young people only get married “for sex”. My husband and I are expecting our 8th child and though we’ve had our trials, we are happily married. My sibling married someone about 10 years later who was much older, divorced and had been sterilized.

    Our guidance to our children is to wait to begin “dating” until they are ready to begin “courting”. In other words, those kinds of relationships are for looking for a mate, not for recreation. We talk to them about chastity and the purpose for marriage, supplemented by readings from Theology of the Body. Our two oldest are in high school and neither has had a boyfriend or girlfriend. They both understand that fertility wanes with age.

  • katatjuta

    I’m not sure any of this is realistic. I think you can teach your children about being responsible while teaching them to pursue their own hopes and dreams before committing to the life long responsibility of child rearing and marriage. “Social deterioration” is a bit strong.

  • katatjuta

    I was pregnant within one month of trying to conceive. I was 33. Second time.. same thing. They are both healthy girls and I was able to do many things in my twenties I may not otherwise been able to do.

  • Terri Kimmel

    The absence of chastity in society and particularly in marriage certainly contributes to social deterioration. The point is properly reverencing human sexual dignity, not pushing early marriage. Young people should not be unnecessarily pressured to wait.

    It has become very prevalent in American culture to live selfishly and consider having children something we add to our resume’, something to which we have a “right”. Status and material comfort (often translating into years of sexual promiscuity or unchaste marital practices) come first as a matter of self gratification, not responsible provision for a family. This is a disordered attitude. Young people who want to marry and have children need and deserve the support of a loving, self-sacrificing, prudent society. I think this is the point of the column.

  • Mary Kochan

    katatjuta, please don’t take offense, but did you keep your virginity while you were single? Did you use birth control after you were married? Were the things you did in your twenties of more value than perhaps your two girls now having two older brothers?

    I ask because these are the kinds of trade offs that so often go into this calculation of personal fulfillment. Not so in every case by any means — and I am not accusing you — but often enough that the subject merits attention and thought. We are putting our kids on an educational and career track many times that gives worldly success but robs them of God’s best.