The Age When Couples Get Married Is Rising Faster Than When They Have Their First Child

This is a historic change.

by Ben Marx

For the first time in more than three decades, data shows that the median age when American women are getting married is rising faster than the age when they first have a child. While both rates have gradually risen over time, they’ve tended to rise at similar rates. But data compiled by Bowling Green State University shows that in 2016, the increase in the age of first marriages outpaced the increase in the age of first births.

What’s particularly noteworthy in the BGSU study were the percentages of change in these areas because they suggest that there are major changes occurring among American families beyond just rising median ages. If the percentages remained similar and largely interconnected, the story would be that, as a median, Americans are both getting married and having kids later than they used to.

That, to an extent, is true. The median age of first marriage has reached a historic high. It now stands at 27.4, which is a significant change from 1980, when it was 22. First births have also reached a new high but without undergoing as big a shift, growing from 22.6 in 1980 to 26.7 in 2016.

The difference between the percentages of change, however, is historic. Since 1980, the median age of first birth has increased 18 percent, while the median age of marriage has risen 25 percent. This outpacing could mark one of the biggest shifts in family trends since 1991, when the median age of first marriages became higher than the age of first births. Prior to 1991, data showed that the median for marriage occurred before couples had kids.

Still, it’s hard to pin down why these percentages change. It could have to do with shifting conceptions about the instability of marriage as a modern institute. It may also hinge more on how wealthier individuals are now getting married later than previously. Or it could be due to a number of other reasons. What we do know is that because this significant shift occurred in 2016, it’s still unclear if it signifies a larger, ongoing trend of how these median ages are becoming uncoupled.

If the data since 1980 is any indication, then the median ages for these two trends will continue to rise. And this signifies one of the largest shifts in what we perceive when we talk about the modern American family.