What’s So Wrong About Encouraging Young Marriages?

Have you read this letter-to-the-editor?  Susan Patton, Princeton alumna, wrote a letter for Princeton’s student newspaper that encouraged female students to look for a husband during their undergrad years.  Needless to say, many people have responded in outrage.  After all, Ms. Patton has suggested a method that seems like a throwback to the 1950s–go to college to get a MRS degree.  It appears demeaning to the progress that woman have made in the last 60 years.  It seems shallow that women should spend their undergrad years finding a husband instead of focusing on their studies.  It seems old-fashioned that women should try to get married before starting a career.

Dealing with marriage statistics is becoming trickier and trickier.  Marriage as a whole is on the decline, with people who are less educated being slightly less likely to get married than those with higher education.  Throw in the fact that more and more couples are opting to live together and start families before getting married, and the average age of a first marriage is at an all-time high.  To actually encourage women or men to get married in their early 20s seems very counter-cultural.  Nina Bahadur agrees.  But while Ms. Bahadur does make some reasonable counter arguments against Ms. Patton’s claim (like how men on campus actually need to be interested in getting married as well), she seems to ignore common traditions in our culture (like the fact that men typically marry younger women or the fact that the majority of people do hope to get married someday).

My husband and I were newlyweds at
the age 24 and 22

However, what ticks me off the most is this expectation in our society that college students or recent graduates can’t possibly be ready to marry because they haven’t grown up.  We expect college grads to be adult enough to have a full-time job, live on their own (despite the rise of boomerang children), and start paying off their massive student loans, but it’s crazy talk to expect them to be mature enough to get married.  Of course, this sentiment about marriage comes from our culture’s belief that marriage is more about love and less about commitment–there isn’t room for the idea that young married couples can have the chance to grow together after they make their vows.  And yes, I know about the divorce statistics for young couples, but again that stems from the belief that a marriage should be first and foremost based on love (which is another topic for another day).

Likewise, in our society’s eagerness to give women equal opportunity in the workplace, we have inadvertently demeaned women who provide a vital service to society by becoming wives and homemakers.  Instead of respecting all the work that women achieve, we still only laud the paid work that women do.  Never mind the hours of unpaid childrearing stay-at-home moms and working moms provide.  Never mind the untold support wives can provide for their husbands (and vice versa).  Never mind the fact that most mothers would prefer to work part-time or less and believe that having a mother working full-time isn’t ideal for a child.  Nope, we’re going to keep pushing women to build a career before they get married, and then watch them struggle as they try to juggle the demands of work and family.

Now I’m not saying that all women should give up their dreams of a career and only try become a homemaker.  Nor am I saying that everyone should be hitched in their early 20s lest they become old maids and undesirable bachelors–young marriages aren’t for everyone.  However, wouldn’t it be nice if young adults were given as much encouragement to create a successful relationship and get married as they were to make a career?  Wouldn’t it be nice if we explained to young adults that taking time to find a job they like is fine, but that work actually isn’t everything?  Wouldn’t it be nice if we told young adults what a joy it can be to get married young and build your adult life together?  While Ms. Patton’s focus on only encouraging young women to find a husband might be a bit misleading (after all, it takes two people to get married!), I don’t think we can deem her sentiments about getting married young as unnecessary and old-fashioned–She just might be a much needed voice of encouragement for young couples to take the leap into marriage.


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