BreakPoint: Delaying Marriage and Parenthood

The Consequences of “Emerging Adulthood”

More and more Americans are delaying marriage and parenthood. Let’s talk about the consequences of “emerging adulthood.”

Arguably the most consequential cultural shift of the past 50 years that too many people are unaware of is the rise of what demographers call “median age at first marriage.”

Two simple numbers, one for men and the other for women, tell a great deal about where marriage and family rank among our culture’s priorities.

In 1950, the median ages for first marriages were 22.8 years old for men and 20.3 years old for women. As late as 1970, the median ages were 23.2 for men and 20.8 for women. And then those ages started rising, and they’re still going up. The figures as of 2013: 29 and 27, respectively.

What’s going on here? What does it mean? Those questions are raised in an important new study by the Census Bureau.

The study, entitled “The Changing Economics and Demographics of Young Adulthood: 1975–2016,” opens with a sobering conclusion: “What was once ubiquitous [for younger Americans’] during their 20s is now not commonplace until their 30s. Some demographers believe the delays represent a new period of the life course between childhood and adulthood, a period of ‘emerging adulthood.’”

The “delays” referred to by the study are not only those involving marriage and child-rearing, but also other hallmarks associated with what we used to call “growing up.”

As the report says, “In prior generations, young adults were expected to have finished school, found a job, and set up their own household during their 20s—most often with their spouse and with a child soon to follow.”

Now we’ve previously talked here on BreakPoint about declining labor force participation, so let’s take a closer look at the “setting up their own household” part. Forty years ago, more than half—57 percent—of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 lived with their spouse; only 26 percent lived with their parents.

Not anymore. Today, only 27 percent of that group live with their spouse; 31 percent live with their parents. Even if you add in the percentages of those living with unmarried partners or living alone, the number of 18-to-34-year-olds living independently is ten percentage points lower than the percentage of those living with their spouses just 40 years ago.

What’s more, they don’t seem to be in any sort of hurry to establish their households, much less have children. While more than 95 percent of those surveyed rated completing your education and getting a job as “extremely” or “somewhat” important, less than half said the same thing about getting married and having a child, and three quarters of these only rated marriage and child-rearing as “somewhat important.”

I repeat, this is consequential.

One obvious consequence is demographic. Delaying marriage means fewer children, which in turn means fewer workers to support an aging American population. It’s not working out well for Japan and China, and it’s not going to work out well for us, either.

Another consequence: fewer and smaller extended families. Fewer children will have cousins, and if trends continue, their children will have fewer aunts and uncles. The support and social capital generated by extended family networks will become a thing of the past. It’s fair to say that more and more of our elderly will become, by necessity, wards of the state.

Now are all called to marriage? Scripture and Christian history tell us clearly not. In fact, my colleague Gina Dalfonzo is releasing a book in June called “One by One,” which reminds us how vital singles are to the life of the Church. We have info about that at

But for those not called to singleness, the command “be fruitful and multiply” is still in effect. It’s a command we ignore not only at our peril, but our future’s, as well.


Further Reading and Information

Delaying Marriage and Parenthood: The Consequences of “Emerging Adulthood”

Read more about the consequences of the “emerging adulthood” trend. Click on the resource links below.


Find a BreakPoint radio station in your area–Click here.


For young Americans, growing up isn’t what it used to be
  • Robert J. Samuelson | Washington Post | April 26, 2017
One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church
  • Gina Dalfonzo | Baker Books | June 2017

Comment Policy: Commenters are welcome to argue all points of view, but they are asked to do it civilly and respectfully. Comments that call names, insult other people or groups, use profanity or obscenity, repeat the same points over and over, or make personal remarks about other commenters will be deleted. After multiple infractions, commenters may be banned.

  • gladys1071

    Of course marriage and childbearing is being delayed. We live in different times when the cost of housing is high, jobs are not as plentiful and are unstable, and many college graduates, graduate with very high student loans. Financial pressures is mostly the reason for this delay. Who wants to sign on to a 30 year mortgage, and have children when you don’t know if you will be laid off next year? This is not the 1950-60’s when people could live on one income and more life long jobs were available.

  • Sara

    As a believer and mother of 4 I could not agree more. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking is sinking more and more into our churches as well and people seem to look down on those that have children and more than one. It is sad that they do not realize how this is going to effect the future.

  • James

    Of course the destruction of the family is a problem, but I wish more people had the capacity to understand that it is no accident. Our destruction did not come out of nowhere, organically. Marxist Globalists have been trying to remake the world more to their liking for a long time now. Their chief weapon targeting the family has been feminism. The Bible admonishes mature Christian women to teach the younger women to love their husbands and their children and to not be sluts and whores and Kardashian-esque creeps and weirdos. Of course Christian civilization is lost when women are taught to be the opposite. It’s all well and good to criticize men for not manning up, but what about women womanning up? As Spiderman tells us, with much power comes much responsibility. Women have lots of power now but are not good at handling the responsibility. When men had the power, they were also expected to sacrifice themselves for their wives and children. Now that women have the power, they are not given the same responsibility to lay down their lives the same way men were, and so things fall apart.

    • Gina Dalfonzo

      Please see our comment policy above, James, and be more careful of your language. Another comment about “sluts and whores” will be deleted.

      • urbanvrwcmom

        To dovetail with your post about the commenting policy, what’s with the ad from Google play with the scantily clad woman? As a Christian oriented site, are you able to tell advertisers what ads you will or won’t accept?

        • Gina Dalfonzo

          I’m not seeing that ad — I’ve refreshed a few times, and I get “tips for truckers,” “gifts for graduates,” and “how to boost your cell signal in an RV.” However, I will ask about it. Thanks for letting me know.

          • urbanvrwcmom

            The ad can be seen from my Android device and it’s a promo for something called “Thrones”. Be that as it may, such an ad has no place here at Breakpoint.

          • Phoenix1977

            Google ads are generated based on either use of language, visited websites, online bought items or Google search history. The hosting website has nothing to do with that.
            So if you see an ad with “scantily clad women” I think you need to ask the people in your home who has been searching for information like that in the first place. And it doesn’t have to be done on your Android device. Any device logged in with the same Google account is linked so it could have originated from any device in your family.

      • James

        Holy moly. If I can’t use the words I used, then I can’t get my point across. Are you really trying to tell me that those 2 words are like the “f” word? No wonder our civilization is lost, we cannot communicate clearly and honestly. Would it really make any difference if I said “fornicators and prostitutes?” Would you delete comments that quoted Ezekiel chapter 16? I’m sorry, I am NOT impressed by your faux fastidiousness. You strain at gnats and swallow camels. The TRUTH here is you are offended by my content, which express the belief that women are responsible for how they handle their moral agency, and not so much with the words as such.

        • Gina Dalfonzo

          Those are the rules. If you don’t like them, you don’t have to post here.

    • jason taylor

      It would be a bit of an exagerration to say that women have the power now. It is true there is a bit of “Tommy this and Tommy that and shuck him out the brute” about men today. But that hardly means we live in a sci-fi matriarchy.

  • Loren & Christina Killgore

    Heh, this one hit a bit of tender nerve. I didn’t get married until 28, almost 29, in large part because I was struggling to just tread water on the job front. I graduated with a master’s degree during massive recession & cutbacks. Then I was fired, unjustly, from my first real job. After that, I was laid off, then medically displaced. For nearly 10 years, stuff like this kept happening. I felt like a high-school drop-out druggy who couldn’t hold a job! When in reality, I was quite the opposite!

    Per Dave Ramsey, women have a bit of a “financial security hormone.” And we men do too, right? Who are we kidding? My point is, who in their right mind, would marry a guy with the above description?

    Well, my now wife would 🙂

    My overall point is, I beg to differ from the crowds today that are putting off marriage and responsible adulthood for purely selfish & convenient reasons.

  • People aren’t stupid. With the onset of unilateral no-fault divorce, the legislatures, and thereafter the court judges, have ZERO respect for marriage. Getting a civil marriage license is a liability. It is the first step in equipping a divorce judge (at the request of a betraying spouse) to forcibly separate one from one’s own children and property. What good-willed person would want to get entangled in that kind of arrangement?

    With the non-profit organization Mary’s Advocates I work to reduce unilateral no-fault divorce and support those who are unjustly abandoned.

    For those who never want unilateral no-fault divorce in their future, we provide a “True Marriage Proclamation Set.” A man and woman sign their wedding promises as a keepsake, and designate a 3rd-party arbitrator to manage any marital issues in accordance with the Catholic Code of Canon Law, or the Bible.

    • Phoenix1977

      And if, in the future, one of those two parties still want a unilateral no-fault divorce your “True Marriage Proclamation Set” has no legal value whatsoever.

  • Gabriela Astrid Morris

    “It’s not working out well for Japan and China”? How about Western Europe? They’re a dying civilization!

  • James

    If I can’t use proper words to describe Kardashian-like sexual behavior, then, this site is worse that useless, it is a tool of the devil in the war of misinformation being waged on the human race.

  • Phoenix1977

    With over 7 billion people on this planet “be fruitful and multiply” should be considered the greatest crime against humanity thinkable. Only the most conservative of people still believe a population reduction is not required. And yes, in the US and Western Europe a reduction would not be truly necessary. However, same cannot be said of Asia, Africa and Latin-America.

    Let’s take Africa from example. Home of about 2 billion people and the largest desert on the planet. There is also quite a large piece of rain forest in Africa and the savanna definitely does not hold the fertile soil needed to grow large quantities of crops. And now, as a result of unchecked population growth on the African continent there is a fourth famine ravaging through Africa, killing thousands upon thousands. Western society does everything in it’s power to put a stop to this famine by donating food and medical supplies. But we are not solving anything because we are simply delaying the inevitable. Africa cannot sustain it’s population and while I’m not encouraging a culling we should accept birth control and family planning is now essential in order to keep Africa alive. And if we don’t do it nature will do it for us. Today it was reported another possible outbreak of the Ebola virus was found in Congo. And nature kills without compassion or remorse.

    Yes, the reduction of children will hurt us in the near future. However, no reduction will hurt us more in the long haul. If we want to survive as a species we need to rip “be fruitful and multiply” from the bible and any other writing known to men. Or, in the future, this planet will be nothing more than a barren rock with proof life once existed on it.

    • Gina Dalfonzo

      Well, I’m really thankful you’re not encouraging a culling.

      • Phoenix1977

        I don’t have to. The last Ebola outbreak in Western Africa killed thousands of people. Since we hardly improved our quarantine procedures since then a new Ebola outbreak will do the same. Not to mention the outbreak of Cholera in Yemen, other infectious diseases in Syria and the complete lack of health care and infrastructure in Iraq, Afghanistan and, to lesser extent, Pakistan.

        Did you see the movie “Kingsmen: The Secret Service”? Of course, Samuel L. Jackson drives it too far, linking climate change to the overpopulation of the earth, drawing a parallel between climate change and the immune response to a virus: The increase of temperature is comparable to the fever humans develop when contracting a virus, but in case of the climate change humanity is the virus.
        Climate change as a fever against humanity is crazy. However, there are quite some scientists who believe certain diseases are nature’s answer to the overpopulation of the earth. Throw in the fact we are unable to cure several of those diseases makes it even more believable.

        So unless we start truly treating this planet with respect instead of devouring it like locusts nature will do the culling for us, in a rather gruesome way.

        • jason taylor

          Devouring locusts are a part of nature and a rather grand looking one if you are not an African farmer. Which is beside the point except you seem to idealize nature by implying that it is something defiled by the mere presence of humans. Vermin are natural too. Besides, It requires humans for nature to be complete. Without humans to poeticize nature Everest would just be a big rock. In any event, population calculation always leaves out the fact that each human is a potential contribution to knowledge that more then makes up for the bother of his bodily existence.

          • Phoenix1977

            I never said humanity is not of nature. However, 7 billion of them is a bit over the top.
            Once could, however, argue that mankind is no longer of nature since we have since long transcended natural laws as “kill of be killed”, “Eat or be eaten” and survival of the fittest. Every bit of evidence suggests our bodies were not meant to live more than 40-50 years, so we even transcended our own expiration date.
            And even the Ice Age was not as destructive for the natural balance on our planet as humanity is.

  • Vanessa Loy

    If churches were required to provide for their childless elderly members (rather than letting it fall on the taxpayers), they might not be so quick to glibly tell single women, “don’t look for a husband, Jesus is your husband.” Glibness is easy when people aren’t subject to the consequences of their ideas, as churches are tax-exempt and their leadership largely middle class and married.