Monday, April 27, 2009

Hitched By 22?

Mark Regnerus notes two things, that the average age of marriage is increasing and that the age gap between couples getting married is decreasing. These things are, apparently, something we should be very worried about. Regnerus seems to think that people are pressured to delay marriage and that they are hamstrung from tying the knot for fear of the label 'Mrs. degree seeker.' Perhaps most interestingly, while he says things like,
But according to social psychologists Roy Baumeister and Kathleen Vohs, women's "market value" declines steadily as they age, while men's tends to rise in step with their growing resources (that is, money and maturation). Countless studies -- and endless anecdotes -- reinforce their conclusion. Meanwhile, women's fertility is more or less fixed, yet they largely suppress it during their 20s -- their most fertile years -- only to have to beg, pray, borrow and pay to reclaim it in their 30s and 40s.
In other words, women are a commodity to be bought and sold, based solely on their fertility. I love consulting the Washington Post's wingnut columnists for my sense of self worth. Don't you? He continues to maintain that:
This is not just an economic problem. It's also a biological and emotional one. I realize that it's not cool to say that, but my job is to map trends, not to affirm them.
Sure, sure. He seems to think that the only value women bring to a marriage is their fertility, despite the fact that women make up a full half of the workforce and millions of families depend on women's wages as primary means of supporting the family. To say that Regnerus has a distorted sense of gender roles is an understatement.

He also seems to think that while women should hurry up and get hitched, men don't have to stress out about this:
Marriage will be there for men when they're ready.
Although he does note the caviat of recent research that shows men who wait to have children after their 40 put their children at risk for developmental disorders.

Regnerus' solution is a simple one: everyone should get married by 22. Seriously. After all, it worked for him:
My wife and I married at 22 with nothing to our name but a pair of degrees and some dreams. We enjoy recounting those days of austerity, and we're still fiscal conservatives because of it, better poised to weather the current crisis than many, because marriage is an unbelievably efficient arrangement and the best wealth-creating institution there is. Married people earn more, save more and build more wealth compared with people who are single or cohabiting.
Look, it's really fun to mock Regnerus' arguments that everyone would just be happier if everyone paired off by 22, leaving neat little family arrangements. But there's a real problem with his argument -- it is more or less the argument echoed through the years about women's worth equal to her fertility and that men control the game when it comes to marriage. His argument is basically the same one that's been used to make 30-year-old single women feel bad for decades.

Regnerus also doesn't even address gay couples. His notion that everyone should be married by age 22 seems to leave out many same-sex couples that don't live in Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts, or Iowa. By leaving out so many couples, his argument seems even weaker.

Even though getting married early works well for some people, it's important to remember that it's not the thing that works out well for everyone. While Regnerus maintains that, "age-divorce link is most prominent among teenagers (those who marry before age 20). Marriages that begin at age 20, 21 or 22 are not nearly so likely to end in divorce as many presume." But that's a pretty broad statement. Some people may well be mature enough to marry by 22, but I was nowhere near ready to make such a financial, emotional, and legal commitment to someone at that age. I was still trying to figure my own life out.

If all Regnerus were doing were presenting trends, he wouldn't have brought such judgment to it. After all, I actually think it's a good thing that men and women are waiting longer to marry. It's also probably a good thing that the age gap is shrinking (although I know plenty of happy couples where the age gap is greater than two years); you tend to be able to meet challenges together as you age together. There's also something to be said for being young and single, experiencing life on your own and learning to be self-sufficient. In the end, that may make you a better partner in the long run.

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