June 29, 2001 -- Americans are waiting longer to get married, a census report released today shows.
The U.S. Census Bureau survey shows that since 1970, the median age for women to get married increased by 4.3 years to 25.1 years; for men the increase was 3.6 years to 26.8 years.
In 1970, Jennifer Ragland would have been a real oddity as a 31-year-old woman who isn't married. In fact, 30 years ago, nearly 95 percent of women her age had already tied the knot.
The change is most dramatic for women in their early 20s.
"In 1970, you were much more likely to have married by the time you were 24 years old," says Jason Fields of the Census Bureau. "Now, over half the population is waiting until after that point in time."
There are several reasons. First, more than twice as many women are going to college than 30 years ago. Second, many women are putting their careers first, so they can put some money in the bank before settling down.
"I wanted to be financially secure," explains Ragland. "I would never want to depend on anybody."
Fear may also be a factor. Many of today's 20- and 30-somethings say their parents get divorced.
"The fact that a lot of these kids are children of divorce makes them cautious, it makes them scared, it makes them gun-shy," says Linda Waite, a professor of sociology at the University of Chicago.
That is certainly the case for 27-year-old Andrea Corwin.
"As a child of divorce, you're automatically going to have some trust issues," she says. "When I make the commitment to get married, I want it to be forever."
Is delaying the walk down the aisle a good thing or bad? Researchers say marrying later can mean marrying wiser, with more maturity and financial security. But there can also be downsides to delay.
One of the more worrisome problems is that more and more women who have postponed marriage are not postponing having children. One-third of babies are now born to unmarried moms.
This factor is a growing concern. "Women raising children alone are more likely to be poor than women raising children in a marriage," says Waite.
Another drawback to delayed nuptials is evident on today's bookstore shelves: The search for a mate is more difficult than some people expect, pushing marriage back much later than many had planned.
Dating services are springing up across the country to help the anxious speed their search.
Despite the delays, however, researchers expect 90 percent of people to eventually marry. In fact, Ragland will marry her fiancé, Bo Simpson, this summer. "When I met Jennifer, it was like I'd met a friend I'd known my whole life," Simpson says.
Which proves that some things are clearly worth the wait.