Why We Should Raise the Marriage Age

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6 Responses

  1. PrometheeFeu says:

    Why should the state adopt restrictive policies that would reduce the number of divorces?

  2. Litigator says:

    What about teenage mothers? Shouldn’t we encourage them to marry ASAP? Single parenthood is one of the worst things that can happen to a child.

    What about cultures that encourage early marriage, such as Mormon? They have exceptionally strong family structures.

  3. PrometheeFeu says:

    What about causation being reversed or the cause being a third factor?

    It’s likely that poor decision-making ability leads to both early marriage, divorce, lower wages, discontinuing of formal education etc…

    It’s also likely that ex-ante poverty leads to earlier marriage ages. After all, marriages provides economies of scale and diversification of incomes both of which are very useful to very poor people.

  4. Litigator says:

    This is an excellent point. Related to this is another relevant question: what would the data look like in the counterfactual scenario — i.e., without marriage, would the relevant population suffer from higher rates of poverty and mental illness? The blogger has not discussed (or, less charitably, assumed away) this possibility.

  5. Ken Rhodes says:

    “Why are marriages entered at earlier ages so unstable? And what can be done about it? The answer to the first question is complicated; the answer to the second question is not.”

    Right — the answer to the second question is not complicated, and it’s not the one proposed.

    The proposed solution is known as “going around your ass to get to your elbow.” It would undoubtedly shrink the number of divorces, but the reduction factor is speculative, and not nearly 100%.

    Just eliminate divorce.

  6. Vivian Hamilton says:

    In the past, single motherhood was probably one of the worst things that could happen to a child (and his/her mother). Women’s abilities to be self-supporting were sharply curtailed, nonmarital children’s fathers were under no obligation to provide their children economic support, and the status of illegitimacy imposed significant legal — not to mention social — hardships on those individuals born outside of marriages. All this has changed.

    I’ll address Litigator’s last questions first. Re mental health: A study that I link to in the post, Le Strat et al., “Child Marriage in the United States and Its Association with Mental Health in Women,” 128 Pediatrics 524 (2011), drew from a sample of over 24,000 American women and found that women who married before age 18 experienced higher rates of both lifetime and current psychiatric disorders than did women who married as adults. To better isolate the effect of child marriage itself on mental health (having considered the possibility that young women marrying early may be more likely to have preexisting psychological disorders), the study’s authors included in their analyses only those psychiatric disorders with an age at onset later than the age at marriage. (The study was also reported in the N.Y. Times.)

    Both Commenters suggest that marriage may counter poverty. It is true that married individuals generally have greater financial, social, and psychological resources than the unmarried. There is little evidence, however, that early marriers experience these benefits. Instead, research to date suggests that marrying “early can lead to added stress and disadvantage, and ultimately poor health, because important socioeconomic resources may be forfeited (e.g., education).” (For cites to numerous studies, see my article, fn. 186.) One imagines that teenaged and young women, in addition to being much more likely to end their educations prematurely and hamper their own income-earning prospects, marry young men who themselves have limited income-earning prospects. To reap the benefits of marriage, moreover, marriages must remain intact. Teen marriages are unlikely to do so.

    If divorce left family members more or less in the same position they would have been in had the couple never married, the high dissolution rate of early marriage might cause less consternation. But mental health studies have shown that the negative psychological effects of divorce are greater than the positive effects of entering marriage. And for unwed mothers who marry then divorce, the risk of poverty is higher than it is for their counterparts who never marry. (see article, fn. 205-16 & text.)

    I haven’t seen many studies explaining these last statistics. But my guess is that young women who become pregnant but do not marry are more likely to invest in their own future income-earning abilities. They have to support themselves and their child. But those who marry between conception and childbirth (and nearly half of all teens who marry are pregnant) are less likely to ever return to school than teen mothers who do not marry, perhaps believing that their husbands will provide for their support. So when they divorce, they are ill-equipped to support themselves and their children.

    (There are also some studies that examine the correlations between religiosity, religious affiliation, and age at marriage. I also highly recommend Naomi Cahn & June Carbone, “Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture” (2010).

    This is all to say that the worst thing that can happen to a child might not be single parenthood, or to be more precise, teen parenthood; the worst thing might be married-teen parenthood.