Dana Meltzer Zepeda, SELF magazine
Fewer Americans are getting married young than ever before, but according to a recent survey, a "deadline" for tying the knot still exists among college women. D-Day? The big 3-0.
The results were part of the "Ultimate College Girl Survey,"conducted online by Her Campus Media, the parent company of HerCampus.com (an online community for college women). Nearly 2,600 college women from 677 different colleges and universities took the survey, representing the classes of 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 almost equally.
Of the respondents, 85.1 percent said that they'd like to be married by age 30. Specifically, 46.5 percent said they'd like to get married between age 25 and 27; 20.9 percent said they'd like to tie the knot between 28-30; and 17.1 percent want to walk down the aisle by their 25th birthdays.
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"We were not surprised with the finding that college women want to be married by 30, because we've seen over and over again how important planning is to today's educated young women," Stephanie Kaplan, HerCampus Co-Founder, CEO & Editor-in-Chief, tells HealthySELF.
"Even while they're still in college, they're looking to the future and thinking about grad school, careers and creating a family, and mapping out how they want to get there and when," Kaplan adds. "Since education and career are so important to today's young women, it makes sense that so many of them identified 30 as their 'target' marriage deadline, whereas I would expect that women in generations past would have identified an earlier age."
Indeed, historian Stephanie Koontz, faculty member at The Evergreen State College, Director of Research and Public Education for the Council on Contemporary Families and author of Marriage, A History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage, says that the survey results "represent a huge shift" in the mindset of young women, historically speaking.
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"After all, back in 1960, half of all women were married by the time they were 20," says Koontz. The ideal was to get married sooner rather than later, she says: "If you were getting a B.A. and had the chance to get an 'MRS' degree, that was what you went for!"
Koontz says there was a serious concern that if you weren't married by the time you were 24, you might -- gasp! -- never get married. "The anxiety to get married, even if it meant not getting an education, was much so much stronger, even as recently as the mid-'60s," says Koontz.
By contrast, Koontz says 30 is a reasonable time frame in the minds of college women today, because that allows enough time for them to complete their education, make strides in a meaningful career and spend time with their spouses before their biological clocks start kicking in. "Those considerations just were not in the forefront of women's minds even 50 years ago," she says.
According to Koontz, the average age of marriage for women today is 26, but that average includes a much wider-spread range of ages than in the past. It's much more likely today, she says, that a college-educated woman could marry for the first time at 40.
So why are so many young women still dead-set on a wedding by 30? "Today's college women want it all -- and I mean that in a good way," Kaplan says. "They want the prestigious degrees, the dream job and the dream life, which for the vast majority of them includes marriage and kids."
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Ah yes, back to that biological clock... when asked by Her Campus about starting a family, 76.8 percent of respondents said that they wanted to have children "at some point" in the future, while 17.2 percent said they weren't sure. About 40 percent said that they'd like to have their first child between age 28-30, while 28.1 percent said that they were open to starting a family during their 30s.
But there's never been a better time to NOT be married by 30. Not only are more women having kids well into their 30s and beyond, being a single woman is just plain fun. Plus, Koontz says, if women do postpone marriage to get an education, they are as likely to marry as any other group of women, more likely to marry than less educated women and much more likely to stay married than any other group of women.
"I really don't think there's much cultural stigma about being unmarried after 30, or even after 40, ESPECIALLY for women, oddly enough," she says. "Back in the 1950s and early 1960s, women often 'settled' for someone they didn't really love because they were so afraid of missing the 'deadline.' Very few women do that nowadays."
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