Is There REALLY a Perfect Age to Get Married?

Originally posted on Brides

There may be a lot of talk about marriage season but, somewhere in your late twenties, it can start to feel like marriage season spans for years. The actual age might vary depending on where you live, but once it starts, it’s basically a domino effect. One friend gets married after another after another.

The average age in the U.S. to get married tends to fall around 27 for women and 29 for men, and the weddings do certainly seem to clump there. But is it because it’s the best age to get married? I think it’s a lot more to do with growing up with the “before I’m 30” mindset. We all thought that we would have the perfect job, house, and marriage before 30. So, when that age starts to loom, we panic. And when we see other people getting married, we panic even more. Thus, the wedding rush begins.

Is there really a right age to get married? A theory from cognitive scientist Tom Griffiths and journalist Brian Christian, who together wrote Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions, suggests that the numbers show 26 as the ideal age to walk down the aisle. And some relationship experts recently made the case to Brides.com that 28 is the perfect age for women to get married, and for men, 32. But love and marriage aren’t exact scientists. Here’s why you shouldn’t get bogged down in the numbers.

Financially, Later Is Better

Women specifically, and especially college-educated women, have a very clear benefit from marrying later. Studies have shown that they set themselves up for a much stronger financial life by not marrying young. “Women who marry later make more money per year than women who marry young,” The Atlantic explains. “The average annual personal income for college-educated women in their mid-30s who married after age 30 is $50,415, compared with $32,263 for college-educated women of the same age who married before age 20—a 56 percent difference.

And that doesn’t just apply to college grads. “Female high-school graduates who attended some college also enjoy higher wages if they wait to marry, though the gap is not as wide: Those who marry after 30 earn $22,286 a year by their mid-30s, while those who marry before 20 earn $18,234, a 22 percent difference.” So if your finances are your priority, there’s an argument toward putting marriage off. But money isn’t everything—and it’s not a one-size-fits all solution.

But Life Events Should Be Taken Into Consideration

Personally, I was all about getting ahead of my career before I settled down—but different people have different priorities and that’s totally OK. Maybe marriage and kids are the priority. If that’s the case, you might want to consider that couples who are married when their first child is born are two-thirds less likely to break up in the first five years than couples who aren’t. Maybe you really want to establish a certain amount of financial security or have a certain type of wedding, so with the rising cost of living and student loan debt it would probably make more sense to put it off for longer.

Your priorities are yours alone. Marriage should be about improving your life, rather than trying to force your life around marrying at a certain age. Make sure you’re thinking about your life and priorities in a holistic way before you start putting pressure on yourself to tie the knot.

And Ultimately, Shouldn’t It Be About the Person?

The big elephant in the room is, of course, that getting married relies on having someone to get married to. And, more than anything else, that’s something you want to make sure that you get right. The statistics and algorithms don’t mean a damn thing if you’re in the wrong relationship. Divorce rates are high—and if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s hard not to think how many of those divorces could have been avoided if people weren’t determined to get married by a certain age.

You hear far too many stories of people marrying whomever they were with when they got to the time in their life they felt like they should get married. But there is no should. It’s about starting a life with a person, the right person, rather than just the one who happens to stumble in at the same moment you feel your biological clock ticking. One of my friends didn’t get married until she was 41. She wasn’t panicking, she wasn’t desperate, it’s just that was when she met the right person. And they are stupidly happy. So there’s nothing to panic about. And really, you don’t want to be a Charlotte and Trey situation, do you? Give yourself time.

Too many of us hold “30” in our heads as a deadline for so many different life events—including marriage. But it’s a totally arbitrary number. Marriage should make your life better; it should be a moment where you solidify a relationship that’s already strong. It’s not about making you feel adult or sorted or like you’ve crossed some finish line. So stop worrying about the age. Instead, live your life, find the person you want to spend it with—if you want to spend it with someone at all. Then, when you feel genuinely ready, you’re at the right age to get married. Whenever that is.