The XX Factor

The Argument for Young Marriage Is Flimsy

There’s an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal by a man named David Lapp who got married when he was 22 and his bride was 21 . He argues that getting married young is ideal, because you can pay off debts together and form marital friendship bonds, like the cartoons in the movie Up . As WSJ commenter Eric Bradbury writes , “It was starting to read like a fairy tale, and then I came across the reference to Disney characters … ”

Lapp is right-people who get married in their teens have incredibly high divorce rates, but beyond that, there is not much difference between getting married at 21, like his bride did, and getting married at 26,  the current median age of marriage for women in the United States. You can pay off debts and be best buddies with your spouse in your late 20s or early 30s just as easily as you can in your early 20s. Lapp himself even quotes a University of Texas study that says, “Little or nothing is likely to be gained by deliberately delaying marriage beyond the mid twenties.” Since nothing is lost either, what’s the rush? Lapp is using what boils down to an anecdote-he and his wife Amber are happy, so early marriage is tops!-to make a larger argument, and it doesn’t really hold water. Lapp also conveniently quotes a study by the Institute for American Values, and his byline tells us he is a research associate at that institution.

Last year, the Washington Post ‘s Michael Gerson made a similar entreaty to young people to get married -but his was more explicitly moralistic. Gerson says that a prolonged period of singledom leads “to emotional and physical wreckage,” while Lapp’s Disneyfied version of life merely hints at this notion (you spend less extravagantly if you’re married, he says). But none of the statistics really support the notion that waiting a few more years is all that destructive, and hand-wringing and flimsy anecdotes aren’t really helping the young-marriage cause.