As you may have heard, Americans are getting married at later ages than previous generations. Many quickly chalk that fact up to a modern tendency to avoid responsibility and commitment. But it might not be so simple as that. 

Currently, in America, the median age for men’s first marriage is 28.7, and for women it’s 26.5. That’s certainly an increase since 1960, when the median age for men was 22.8 and for women it was 20.3.

But if we go back further, the increase in the median age for a first marriage is not so steep. According to Jonathan Vespa writing for the Census Bureau, in 1890, the median age for men’s first marriage was around 26, and for women it was around 22. 

That’s still lower than today, but then take a look at life expectancy in 1890 vs 2010:


Vespa concludes:

“If the proportion had remained at the same level as in 1890, men would not marry until they were 46 years old — 17 years later than they do today. Women would not marry until they were 40 (Figure 3).

Viewed in this light, the gains to life expectancy during the 20th century dwarf increases in the age at marriage. What is more, calling the rising age at marriage a delay ignores life expectancy, which is not accounted for when we compare ages in absolute terms. Thus despite marrying at older ages, Americans are actually marrying sooner in their lifetime than they did a century ago.”