Waiting for Sex… is a Now a LONG WAIT!

All week we’ve been talking about abstinence. “Just wait until marriage.”

That was a message easier said to my great grandpa and grandma. They were married before age 20. Rewind a couple years before that. Remember how old Laura Ingalls was on Little House on the Prairie? (Don’t tell me you don’t remember that TV show… or I’m feeling really old!) Yeah, Laura earned her teaching certificate at age 15, starting seeing the man she would eventually marry, then married him at age 18.

That’s quite a different portrait for the typical girl trying to earn her master’s degree today who statistically won’t marry until about age 30.  (poor Almanzo would have had to take 12 years of cold showers waiting for Laura today!)

When we ask our kids to “wait” … how long are we really asking them to wait?

Marriage consultant and author Stephanie Coontz talks about this in her article about the decline of Married-Couple Households:

The biggest reason married-couple households are now outnumbered by unmarried ones is the rising age at which people first marry. In 1960, the median age of marriage (with half of all individuals marrying before this age and half after) was 23 for men and 20 for women. Half of all women married before they left their teens! Today the median age of marriage is 27 for men and almost 26 for women. Among women who pursue graduate degrees, it is about 30.

I talked about this in an article almost six years ago in response to a Washington Post article where the author raised some really good questions about age (and drew some conclusions that I didn’t agree with). He pointed out the noticeable difficulty of abstinence with the average age of marriage rising. Author Philip D. Harvey argues:

The average age of marriage in the United States today is 27 for men and 26 for women.  The abstinence-only program therefore asks our young people to renounce sexual activity throughout much of the early part of adult life …

… I wonder if those who seriously advocate abstinence until marriage would prefer to see the marriage age come down…

…But in modern industrialized societies, where women have educational opportunities and more than half attend college, marriage in the teenage years will likely become increasingly rare.  If we agree, as I think most Americans do, that equal educational and occupational opportunities for women are a good thing, that our society is enhanced and enriched by these developments, then I think we must accept the fact that marriage in the middle or late twenties is the modern societal norm.  If that is so, the expectation of sexual abstinence until marriage is utterly unrealistic.

Philip poses a great question about the growing difficulty of what we’re asking kids to do.

This age of marriage changes regionally, even more so out of the U.S. In Denmark the average age of someone’s first marriage is 32.5 for men and 30.1 for women. But in Bangladesh it’s 21 for men and 16 for women. Maybe that’s what our kids need to do. Just move to Bangladesh!

In America the ages change as do the laws of when you can even marry. Most states allow males to marry at age 18 and females at 16 with parental consent. Exceptions include Hawaii, Missouri and Georgia where females only have to be 15 with parental consent (and Georgia allows 16 year old females to get married without parental consent if they are pregnant). There we go. If you can’t afford to go to Bangladesh, just move to Atlanta!

Regardless, the age is changing. About.com documents the exact change on this page:

Year — Men— Women
2003 — 27.1 — 25.3
2002 — 26.9 — 25.3
2001 — 26.9 — 25.1
2000 — 26.8 — 25.1
1999 — 26.9 — 25.1
1998 — 26.7 — 25.0
1997 — 26.8 — 25.0
1996 — 27.1 — 24.8
1995 — 26.9 — 24.5
1994 — 26.7 — 24.5
1993 — 26.5 — 24.5
1992 — 26.5 — 24.4
1991 — 26.3 — 24.1
1990 — 26.1 — 23.9

1989 — 26.2 — 23.8
1988 — 25.9 — 23.6
1987 — 25.8 — 23.6
1986 — 25.7 — 23.1
1985 — 25.5 — 23.3
1984 — 25.4 — 23.0
1983 — 25.4 — 22.8
1982 — 25.2 — 22.5
1981 — 24.8 — 22.3
1980 — 24.7 — 22.0

1979 — 24.4 — 22.1
1978 — 24.2 — 21.8
1977 — 24.0 — 21.6
1976 — 23.8 — 21.3
1975 — 23.5 — 21.1
1974 — 23.1 — 21.1
1973 — 23.2 — 21.0
1972 — 23.3 — 20.9
1971 — 23.1 — 20.9
1970 — 23.2 — 20.8

1969 — 23.2 — 20.8
1968 — 23.1 — 20.8
1967 — 23.1 — 20.6
1966 — 22.8 — 20.5
1965 — 22.8 — 20.6
1964 — 23.1 — 20.5
1963 — 22.8 — 20.5
1962 — 22.7 — 20.3
1961 — 22.8 — 20.3
1960 — 22.8 — 20.3

1959 — 22.5 — 20.2
1958 — 22.6 — 20.2
1957 — 22.6 — 20.3
1956 — 22.5 — 20.1
1955 — 22.6 — 20.2
1954 — 23.0 — 20.3
1953 — 22.8 — 20.2
1952 — 23.0 — 20.2
1951 — 22.9 — 20.4
1950 — 22.8 — 20.3

1949 — 22.7 — 20.3
1948 — 23.3 — 20.4
1947 — 23.7 — 20.5
1940 — 24.3 — 21.5

1930 — 24.3 — 21.3

1920 — 24.6 — 21.2

1910 — 25.1 — 21.6

1900 — 25.9 — 21.9

1890 — 26.1 — 22.0

So what is my 2 cents on all of this?

Well, I don’t live in Georgia, but do the math. I was 37-years-old this year when I celebrated my 17th year wedding anniversary with my wife. (17 years and we still like each other.)

Hmmmmmmm.

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over twenty books including the brand new If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; Sex Matters; The Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket; and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers; Connect; and the 10-Minute Talks series. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.
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3 Responses to Waiting for Sex… is a Now a LONG WAIT!

  1. eric says:

    What is the average marriage age of those who do wait?

    If you believe in sex before marriage why would you be in any hurry to get married?

    I would imagine most of those people decide to get married because they want to start having children.

    The LONG wait is by choice not a requirement. I don’t see why we would think about changing the value of abstinence just because people get married later.

  2. Paul Loeffler says:

    I was 24, she was 22 in 1994, so we were slightly below average. Still, we waited for 24/22 years, and though it was difficult at times (especially after we got engaged), we did it… and not just technically. I’m convinced it is possible. I know of girls who are over 30 who are still virgins in every sense of the word. It’s not unrealistic. And, on a related note… because I’m extremely proud of my grandparents, I’ll probably be one of many to say that my grandparents were 17 and 15 when they got married. Grandma passed away after 63 years of marriage. I still can’t listen to Mark Schultz song, “Walking Her Home” without balling.

  3. Alan says:

    Is God’s word limited to our convenience?