Over at Slate's Double X Libby Copeland writes about how celebrities seem to be marrying as young as their early 20s and late teens, unlike most of us, who have been marrying later in life. Now that neo-Calvinists have fretted about the "epidemic of singleness" over the last decade is something Wenatchee The Hatchet has discussed very recently but here, arguably, is the flip side of the same coin, which is a secular anxiety that anyone WOULD marry in the late teens or early 20s. These people must just not be old enough or financially stable enough or mature enough to handle married life.
According to the latest statistics, this trend among celebrities seems downright regressive. Contemplating a wedding before one hits drinking age is increasingly an anomaly for a culture in which the median marrying age is now nearly 27 for women and 29 for men. The Knot Yet study, which came out last week, explores how the change in marriage age has affected America’s classes differently. College-educated women benefit from marrying and having kids later—they make more money and they’re less likely to divorce. But lower-income Americans, responding to economic pressures, wind up delaying marriage but not delaying having kids, which means they raise their children in poorer and less stable environments.
Take note of that phrase "seems downright regressive." What's regressive about marrying younger and regressive in relationship to what? The norm now? What if now is not the norm? Remember that the last time the median age of first marriage was as high as it's gotten in the last three or four years as the Great Depression. And since arguably a secular left and a religious right both have some historical memory, let's go back to consider the post-World War 2 setting in which getting married straight out of high school could make some sense.
... Once upon a time, men with high school degrees could obtain manufacturing jobs with solid wages and pensions that enabled them to marry and start families in their early 20s. Now, with the chances of nabbing a pension about as good as “winning the World Series,” as the Knot Yet study puts it, young blue-collar Americans can’t pay for a wedding, let alone a house and kids.
But then again who says home-ownership in a post-industrial capitalist society is actually economically viable or normative? Here Wenatchee refers back to the anecdotal observation that most of the middle-aged guys in the leadership rungs of Mars Hill were not homeowners back in theri 20s or, if they were, they owned a home that was subsidized by taking on as many renters as they could possible handle (and maybe more).
... In other words, celebrities marry young not because they’re more mature than the rest of us (clearly) but because they have the means so much of America lacks. The move may be driven by youthful impulse, but it is also, in a strange way, logical. They’re just doing what so many of us would have (ill-advisedly) done as teenagers if we’d had loads of cash and legal independence from our parents: married our first loves.
Wenatchee wonders what "first love" is supposed to mean here. It may certainly be irrational to marry one's first love but it's not entirely clear that marriage as it is undertaken in any American cultural context is really a purely rational decision.
But not all of us think marrying for true love is a compelling or plausible reason to marry. It may be nice if you have it but marrying to be a spouse and parent is not an irrelevant incentive to marry, and even marry young. Wenatchee knows several couples, actually, who married as young as 19 and had children fairly soon into marriage (as in the first four years). We live in a culture in which a teenaged girl who specifically wants to be a wife and mother in her 20s, even her early 20s, may be told that that's too soon. On the basis of what? If she manages to attain this goal then she could manage to be an empty nester in her 40s (depending on how things go).
Copeland doesn't write about that, though:
The authors of Knot Yet write that as a cultural effect of delaying marriage, “marriage is transformed from a cornerstone to a capstone of adult identity. No longer the stabilizing base for the life one is building, it is now more of a crowning achievement.” During my parent’s generation, couples launched their adult lives together and built families and financial stability along the way, whereas now, those of us in our 20s and 30s believe we should be well on our way to professional success before marriage. It would seem that pop stars like Miley Cyrus are forgoing that by marrying barely out of puberty, but in fact they just happen to work in a business that brings success at an abnormally young age. They’re already there, or at least they feel like they are. The wedding feels like a capstone.
Copeland does propose that in our age marriage is considered the culmination of self-realization, perhaps this can be construed as marriage simultaneously being the great romantic bond in which one's autonomy and authentic self is reinforced by way of romantic attachment on the one hand and as a paradoxical outworking of realizing the self on the other. Marriage becomes the path to a more transcendent level of self-realization and a way to impart self-realization or benefit to others. Which, if true, could suggest that the narcissism inherent in that sort of romanticism has a toxicity and self-deluding element to it that may be beyond the existence of words that can express it. :)
For people at the upper and lower rungs of society, though, marriage and family have larger implications. Family conceived as an extended network of families and clans becomes more significant the higher or lower we get in social strata and in some sense for pretty much the same reason, money and resources. At the top family name is part of the resource inventory to be responsibly handled, at the bottom family name will be of some value in case, well, for instance someone in the clan is better off than your brood. Let's not be unaware that there have been times when nepotism had some positive outcomes. It's not like Wenatchee The Hatchet woke up some morning and decided that, you know, the Bach family had this generations long dynasty that existed because of nepotism and that this means Bach's music shouldn't be heard, for instance. We can thank the social networking and aims of well-off people in various cases for the moment when Haydn urged Mozart's father to encourage the boy's talents and Wenatchee writes this as someone who loves Haydn's music vastly more than Mozart's!
Anyway, as we were saying, marrying young will probably be unrealistic and unreasonable if the expectation of newlywed family-building is too beholden to the economic circumstances of previous generations. Wenatchee has been contending for years that if the American economy continutes on its course the extended family will increasingly be seen as economically and socially necessary. It's not that marrying young is currently or ever has been "unrealistic" it's that the American conception of the family in the secular left and the religious right is too narrowly nuclear in its general conception.