The family, the smallest social unit of society, starts out with the union of a man and a woman in most cases and is formalized in a wedding ceremony during which vows are exchanged before witnesses. This ceremony, the marriage ceremony, legalizes the union and the couple enter a new phase of their life aiming to stay together ‘till death do them part’. Such an undertaking is very serious and should not be taken lightly which brings into question the ideal age for marriage. The age for marriage has risen in tandem with industrialization and welfare levels from the mid teens to the mid thirties. The current later age for marriage, though dictated by circumstances, makes far more sense due to various reasons.
In early agrarian communities, where the average lifespan was far shorter than it is today, the mid teens were considered quite late enough to get married. The advantages of such an early union were manifold: debts might be considered paid, property was kept in the family, and promiscuity was prevented. Considering that infant mortality rates were high, it was also important that the young couple get on with the serious business of reproduction early on. As for getting along, not making a go of marriage was not an option; the marriage vows were taken very seriously indeed. Come their late thirties or forties, people were considered and looked middle aged as they were worn out by years of hard labor – modern conveniences didn’t exist in those days. Conditions have changed however and with them, the age of marriage.
Modern welfare societies enable individuals to do much more during a lifetime and give them far more choice the average lifespan having doubled. People now take longer in school graduating from college in their late teens and then go on to university which might possibly be followed by graduate work. A spouse and troop of kids would make all this quite impossible; imagine your modern high school student meeting his wife and two kids in the school canteen where there is a play area for kids. Young people are no longer considered ready for life in their mid teens; people can afford to be far more honest and realistic and admit that they are still kids at this age. Although some people still work on the land, even agriculture is less labor intensive and has become mechanized; hence, kids can go to college without causing problems for Dad. The agrarian communities having left their places to modern industrialized societies, jobs need to be secured after graduation and adequate salaries need to be earned before fathers in law can be approached. In short, young people would have to be mad to even contemplate early marriage. What is more, their parents would also have a fit if they did.
Obligation comes with an added bonus though: the extended period of growing up, receiving a good education and becoming mature generally means that young people are psychologically really ready for marriage. They know their own minds, they know what they need and what they want and most importantly make their own decisions. This is very different and a lot better than the past when young people were told what they needed and wanted and decisions were taken for them for all kinds of practical reasons. Parents are present in advisory capacity in the modern world but not even that sometimes. It is no longer two families that get married either; it is two individuals. All this has put an end to the possibility of a lot of miserable marriages.
In short, there is no cloud without a silver lining: old traditions and with them early marriage is gone but hopefully, happier marriages where children are brought up by the parents themselves and not the extended family are in. Marriage is, after all, the union of two people meant to last for a life time so young people should be able to take the plunge when they are good and ready and not a moment before.