Against Marriage

Fifteen now, my kid has reached the stage some girls find themselves in: every baby she sees, smells, or hears about floods her with desire.  “I need a baby!” she wails to me, (mostly) joking.

“No babies,” I say firmly.  “You can have a baby after you get your Ph.D.”

This has been the rule I have recited to her since she was three years old: no babies, no boyfriends, no marriage, not until she gets her Ph.D.  And, as with her yearning for a baby at fifteen, I have always been (mostly) joking.

Fox News and the Conservatives want us to believe their Conventional Wisdom, which is that the solution to poverty is for women to marry.  (Marry young, obviously.)  We just need to have our young women marry some big strong protective man, and he will support her, and hey presto!  No poverty.

In fact, of course, this turns out not to be the case.  In fact, early marriage often leads to poverty, as anyone who is paying attention can see. (Those who think otherwise have gotten their causes and effects reversed.)

I myself did not marry until I was thirty-three, and very nearly finished with my doctorate.  I didn’t have the kid until I was thirty-eight.  I have one of the better marriages in my experience – Dr. Skull and I knew each other for years before we married – and yes, by knew each other, I mean “knew” each other.  We married only after we were certain we were committed, and certain it was the right thing to do.

I contrast this to the young women in my working class university, many of whom grew up in a culture which forbids sex outside of marriage, which keeps its children ignorant of the mechanics of both sex and birth control, and which encourages early marriage.

Except encourages is a mild word for it: young women who don’t marry in this culture are told, firmly and often, that something is wrong with them; that they are freaks, that they are broken, that they will end up unloved and alone: that it is better to marry anyone (a drunk, an abusive jerk, someone who is damaged or dangerous, someone they do not love) than to stay unmarried.

So these women – who are often very young, seventeen, eighteen, twenty years old – marry, and begin having children at once.  Because the men they have married are usually as young as they are, neither partner is educated.  They end up with working class jobs – maybe, if they’re lucky, with jobs paying slightly better than minimum wage.

Once these families have two or three kids, someone had to quit working, since otherwise the kids will need daycare,which at their level of income, they cannot afford — though, sometimes, if they’re lucky, a family support system will provide childcare.

If they’re lucky, if the marriage is good, if he doesn’t lose his job and she doesn’t lose hers, if no one gets sick very often or very badly – well, all may yet be well.

If not…

Many, even most, of the young women and men I see in my college classrooms are in their mid-twenties and early thirties; sometimes older. Many are divorced, with two or three kids.  They are struggling to feed these kids while they make a living and go to school.  I can’t tell you the number of students I have had come to my office, shut the door, and tell me (often on the edge of tears) that they would not make it to school the next week, because they couldn’t put gas in the car.  Their kid needed antibiotics, and they couldn’t pay for that and gas.  Or: their heating bill had to be paid, and they couldn’t do that and buy food and fill up the car.

And these are the winners.  They are.  These are the ones who have somehow made it to the university, who are climbing out of poverty, who may well yet succeed.

What I mean is: there are worse stories out there.

The solution to poverty is to encourage all our children to avoid marriage until they are at least twenty-five.  (Maybe even thirty-three.)

Until their forebrains have developed.  Until they have met someone they are absolutely sure they want to spend the rest of their lives with.  Until they have completed their educations, until they have found jobs that pay living wages. To have their children late, when they can support them.

And to only marry if they want to marry.

Being alone is better than being with a loser, I tell my kid.  Because that’s a true story.

(Photo D. Sharon Pruitt; Source Wikicommons)





Raised in New Orleans, Kelly Jennings is a member and co-founder of the Boston Mountain Writers Group. She has published short fiction in Strange Horizons and The Future Fire, as well as in the recent feminist SF anthology The Other Half of The Sky. Her first novel, Broken Slate, was published by Crossed Genres. She blogs at delagar.

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  1. I respect the way you chose to live your life and your accomplishments but you are very judgmental about women who do not live their lives the way you do. I would like to use my life decisions of marrying and have a child young to demonstrate how you can make these decisions without being a loser and how it can pull women out of poverty. You don’t hear these stories because people have no need to come in your office and say, “things are really working out for me.”

    My single mom made $23k raising my sister and I. My husband’s situation growing up in poverty. He dropped out of one of the worst high schools in the nation but continued with his interest with programming at the local library. We met at iupui when we were 19. we are now married with a soon to be 2 year old son and we will be 27 this summer. He has a job making more than quadroople the amount my mother did.

    I took a year off school to enjoy motherhood and am now finishing up my last year of school, after which I will become an art teacher. I could have chose a more ulcerative career path but this is what I am very passionate about. I have thought about going back for my masters after I make a dent in paying back student loans.

    Before we were married, our financial and living conditions were horrible and unstable. Our mothers lost their homes and we had nowhere to go. We couldn’t afford to stay in school and pay rent so we decided to forego shelter to stay I’m school and lived in a tent (while also working). We couldn’t stay on the same track when the weather got cold so we legally got married 2 years before our wedding to qualify for more financial aid, enough to cover what we needed for rent. Eli was born a week before josh graduated and were in a stable home. The moment josh got his first pay check we went from lower to middle class with no worries of what we were going to do next.

    Before you say I am only here because of him, we are only here because we had eachother. We worked as a team, taking turns going to school part time so the other could work more to support us. We took turns sharing our cars when the other needed repair and we needed to save up for it. We did everything together to climb out of poverty and it worked out. He now pays the bills so I can finish school and for the first time I do not have to work while in school.

    I agree that under 20 is too young to become a parent. I wanted to be as young as possible while also being responsible. So I chose to have a child after I was married, I’m a stable home, had stable finances, and having a set plan for my career path that coincide with the kid of mother I wanted I be. I do not want to have children after I hit 30 because of all the health risks involved. I want to be a young mother to have more energy for my young child and to have my grandchildren in my life for longer. These things were important to me, so everything else revolved around making it happen.

  2. That would make you…25 when you got married? Which I think is the actual age I recommend in the article.

    You probably would have been better off if you had waited to have the child until after you finished your education — even you have to admit that — but you do have a stable home, stable finances, and a stable plan. I really don’t see where we’re in disagreement.

    As for judgmental, Casey, will you point to it, please? I set out some advice, based on evidence. That’s all. No judgment of anyone — well, anyone except those adhering to the culture that forbids knowledge to young teens and adults — is implied anywhere in my essay. Any judgment you read there, you inserted yourself.

  3. Oh — and as part of the ignorance I am talking about: the “health risks” involved in having children at and after 30 have been greatly exaggerated by those on the Right, in order to have the exact effect they have had on you: to scare young women into having children instead of getting educations. To keep women like you as powerless as possible, in other words.

    Don’t let it work. Don’t let them stop you from getting educated.

  4. I know your post focuses more on avoiding marriage to also avoid poverty, but wanted to share the term “Starter Marriages” that was coined I think in the 1990’s (, but that got picked up again in the early 2000’s, and refers to marriages that start and end when the individuals are in their twenties. I was married from age 22 to 27, to a guy I dated for 5 years before marrying. . .and it was truly a mistake made because we both exercised poor judgment (those underdeveloped forebrains) and felt like it was “what you do.” We both were worse for it. Fortunately, there were no children, so when the divorce was final, I bushwhacked my way back to the life I’d hoped to have before I got sidetracked–but in the meantime, I lost 5 years of my life and was worse for wear (financially, socially, emotionally, physically, etc) having gone through it.
    My point here is that there is anecdotal evidence on both sides of the marry young argument, and everyone who feels strongly has their story to back them up. But, the statistics back you’re point that generally speaking, women should wait.

    1. Deek: Yes. That 50% divorce rate, when we look at it, it’s made up mostly of “starter” marriages: or marriage that should never have happened. My parents were married when they were 19 and 21. Now they’ve done okay. They’re still married. But (frankly) they got lucky. Out of all their friends, who *also* married in their late teens and early twenties, *all* of those couples (more than a dozen) are now divorced.

      And frankly, there is no reason not to wait until you’re 25 or 28 or 30 to marry. Despite the lies the Far Right keeps spreading, you can marry at 27 or 30 or 35; you can have kids at those ages; you will be a fine parent at those ages. In fact, I’d argue you’ll be a better parent in your mid-30s than you would be at 22, *because* your forebrain is developed, and *because* you know so much more.

      And, of course, your career / educational path is further along, so you’re likely to be able to support your child better. (Or children. I guess some people want more than one!)

      1. I think there is an important difference between starter marriages and marriages that should never have happened. My starter marriage was something I am grateful for. I learned an enormous amount with my first wife. I am glad I had her in my life and glad we got married, Ending the marriage was also the right decision. Please remember that the ending of a relationship, even a marriage, is not the same as it being wrong for it to have existed in the first place. My first marriage was something I value and in large part lead to the skills I have brought to my second marriage.

  5. I have to constantly remind myself that my husband and I are the exception, not the rule – we married fast and, at least in my case, young. We met in October 1996, were married in August 1997 and are still going strong. BUT. I was in law school, he was in grad school and we didn’t even start talking kids seriously until our 5th anniversary. We married because we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together and waiting to fit some sort of expectation of how long people should date or how old they should be when they married seemed silly – we wanted to be married so we got married. Had a tiny wedding that we mostly financed ourselves, went on with our educations as a team.

    I offer this up not as a contradiction to this post, but just as a cautionary tale about assumptions. What is inherently wrong is to marry someone or have children because you feel like you’re supposed to and not because you want to. The timing may have statistical significance, and waiting may suggest a better outcome, but it’s the underlying reasons for making the decision that really affect the outcome, not age itself.

  6. I do take issue with some of the things that are said here. I take issue with the PhD option. I think you meant this flippantly maybe, but it is distinctly not a healthy family oriented path and I do not see where this is a better choice. Yes education is important, but I have seen grad students take themselves to the edge of humanity in fighting for their PhD’s in science at the sacrifice of themselves and their future family. I would never push someone down the PhD path unless they had funding and was extremely self motivated. It is important to remember a person is not a better person for having a PhD. My husband dropped out from his PhD program after 70+ hour weeks and a mental break down. He did nothing wrong in fact he was a shooting star that was used in the academic machine. Afterwards we found out this was *normal* for students in just such a competitive program. They are expected to recover and continue the program at the same pace. I promise you he was not better fit as a family man after his spell with higher education. Not that we discourage higher ed. I am currently in school now earning another degree and my husband teaches. We love our community and the opportunities that come with learning. I do staunchly believe in education, just not the way that you have presented it here. Honestly though, I don’t think your daughter who comes from what appears a well educated family with earning potential is going to fall into poverty. And even if she did have a baby in her youth I suspect you would support her and love her baby and family. She would not be apart of the picture that you painted of the poverty stricken, truly without choices. Her road would simply not be the one painted by you.

    If someone, I am not talking about simply teenagers, really has the desire to have a family and children, bringing your experience of waiting until 38 is not helpful. (My mom had started early menopause at that age. Waiting until 30 for babies would have been absurd for her.) My husband and I are infertile for the most part, finally having a child when I was 30 and him 34 and we still don’t use birth control. In having children, youth and time is actually is on your side. I think there is a balance here. I would suggest access to birth control and good family planning to open options and choices to young people.

    It just feels that this article is making black and white and very colorful issue. The road out of poverty is so hard. Education and family may/is part of it, but so are so many other factors. Culture, class-ism, disability, health, ect are also a large part that has not been touched on here.

  7. Yes, greenstone, in case it wasn’t already clear from the article, the bit about the PhD is a joke.

    What I actually say in the article, pretty clearly, is that both men and women should wait until they are 25 or 30 to marry, if indeed they marry at all; and wait to have children until they have (mostly) finished with their educations.

    As for what I would do if my daughter came home pregnant — well, that’s very unlikely, since we’ve been discussing birth control and how to get it and how to use it since she was nine. But even if she did, we’re a pro-choice family. If she wanted to continue the pregnancy, then yes, I would indeed help and support her in all the ways I could.

    But if you think this would lead to her having a better future, or if you think an educator — even or especially a university professor — in this day and age is financially secure, I have one word for you: LOLZ.

  8. And I do address health issues, and class issues. I don’t address disability — you got me! — but you know, this wasn’t an essay about everything that can make you poor. This was an essay about how marriage is not, in fact, a way to escape poverty, but rather (for most people) a road *into* poverty.

    That there are *also* many other ways into poverty does not obviate my thesis.

    1. Gosh, I had composed a response and then Martha Knox (her 8:28 response) beat me to it and I think she said it better. Poverty comes from a variety of sources. The reason that women and children are most likely to live in poverty is that they are underprivileged. Not simply because of their choices. You acknowledge this fact but fail to bring it into reality in your statements. You are asking women to wait to have commitments, lifelong relationships, and family. These are the things that make life worthwhile to me. (You understand that you are telling women to wait, particularly underprivileged folks. Yet again reducing their choices in life.) I agree with Martha in that I believe the solution is to insist on better.

      And to make it clear, I believe in getting an education, but do not believe that everyone should or must attend paid for schooling and higher ed. We have a problem in our city, where not all young people are getting a good grade school education and it is sad and disheartening. Learning how to read, and write and basic math is so important. I don’t blame the students for not getting a good grade school education, there are so many factors at play. It is a community problem that we all have to take responsibility in.

  9. I couldn’t agree with this more. I married at 41 and my wife was 33. This was not through any particular wisdom on my part. It was just how life worked out.

    Marriage isn’t just about choosing the right person. It is about being the right person yourself, one that has matured enough for an adult relationship. When I was in my twenties, I was mature in many ways but immature in many others. Getting married then would likely have been a colossal fucking disaster.

  10. If Americans cannot marry and start a family at 21 (3 years past high school and old enough to drink, smoke, vote, and die for their country) the solution is not convincing young adults to put off their lives.The solution is changing our society in a way so that young adults can more quickly achieve financial independence and having young children is affordable for the average full time worker in his or her early 20’s. If everyone goes to collage then more people will be in debt competing for the same often low paying jobs. If everyone waits until they’re over 35 to have kids then birth defects, childhood delays, miscarriages, still births, and couples struggling with infertility will rise. Not to mention the rise in unwanted pregnancies because even if everyone is careful, birth control isn’t 100%. Early marriage and parenthood is right for many people. What is wrong is we’re destroying the once thriving blue collar class in America and then blaming the victims.

  11. I think I’m just so damn sick of hearing people tell underprivileged kids “Go to college” as if that will solve all their problems. As if there weren’t diploma mills cropping up all over the place to take advantage of those kids and their families and which basically set them up to start their careers in their mid-20’s with a heap of student loan debt but no ability to compete against more privileged college graduates who also had the connections to actually get the jobs that require a college education. As if it wasn’t absurd to think that all or even most Americans should or want to or can get a college degree. As if the increase in jobs that pay well and that require a college education was keeping in step with the rising number of college graduates. As if student loan debt weren’t a HUGE burden on the lives of countless Americans who could desperately use those YEARS monthly payments for things like a mortgage on a house, health insurance, a retirement fund, and *gasp* kids. Seriously, there is something wrong with our society. We’re not facing up to hard economic realities: Working Americans are being asked to do more with less. Liberals (a group I proudly count myself as part of) telling people that their personal decisions are the key to prosperity is just as shitty as conservatives telling people that their personal decisions are the key to prosperity. The average full time worker in America should at least be able to support a family of 4. We should have universal health care. Day care for infants and toddlers and Head Start programs should be a public service for all just like public schools and social security. Then individuals can CHOOSE the lifestyle that works for them and not have their families and dreams torn apart by economic hardship, and then have to listen to conservatives tell them they needed to trust in Jesus, and liberals tell them they should have got more education and waited until they were 30+ to have kids.

  12. Martha: I certainly agree with you that our economy needs work, and that working class people need better pay. However, strong unions and better labor laws, in my opinion, would go a long way to fixing that, not marrying kids off in their late teens and early 20s. Strike for better pay, join unions, get educated: all that would do more get improve their lot in life than marrying too young and having babies too soon.

    Further, if you read this essay with attention, you will notice I say education, not university degree. Education includes trade school as well as a liberal arts degree; learning web design, fixing cars, and gourmet cooking as well as getting a doctorate in classical lit. Education is not an elitist word, despite what the GOP would have you think. (I am not, by the way, arguing AGAINST university degrees. Those who want them should take that route.)

    And this belief you have that having babies after 25 leads to “birth defects, childhood delays, miscarriages, still births, and couples struggling with infertility” is, sadly, based on more Conservative lies. Yes, that’s what you have been hearing for the past twenty years, non-stop, from Fox News and other outlets — that you have to marry at 20 and have babies by 25 or you will never get pregnant or if you do, your children will be horrible freaks.

    And right before that, the Conservatives were promising women that if they didn’t get married by 25, they would never get married.

    And right before that, the Conservatives were promising women if they went to college, they would never get married. (“What man wants to marry a woman with more education that he has?” went the lie back then.)

    And now you’re hearing that if you don’t get married, you’ll live in miserable poverty forever, dooming your kids to live in miserable poverty forever.

    You know, at some point, you really need to stop buying the lies.

  13. Further, Martha, as you must know, one of the best ways to lift a culture out of poverty is to educate its women. Delaying marriage and child-bearing are crucial in allowing women, especially, to complete their educations.

  14. She said 35. The risk for birth defects etc DOES actually start to steeply go up once you hit this age. That certainly isn’t to say that no one can or should have children any later, but the increased risk is a medical fact.
    Also I agree that lying to scare younger people into getting married before they are ready is wrong. I don’t think anyone posting here is for that. When you use terms like “marrying kids off” you are also implying that they really have no choice in the matter (not giving them a choice is also undeniably wrong). What about young adults who have thought things through and WANT to get married. You say “the solution to poverty is to encourage all our children to avoid marriage until they are at least twenty-five. (Maybe even thirty-three.)” I’m with Martha on this one – marrying young is not the cause of poverty in this country to begin with, and it isn’t the solution. Waiting till your older to marry is a valid life choice. So is marrying younger.

  15. Well, good thing I didn’t arguing that people should wait to have babies until they are 35, then.

    Not that the risk “steeply” increases then, by the way. (It does increase. But “steeply” is a stretch.)

    I’ll point out, one more time, that this is an essay about how early marriage leads to poverty, rather than being a silver-bullet cure for poverty, as the GOP is currently claiming.

    (I will also note — once again — that I did not say it was “the” cause of poverty.)

    Further, even if we agree with your claim — that your chances of having a healthy baby at as a poor 20 year old are better than your chances of having a healthy baby as a well-off, educated 33 year old —

    — and I will note that I am dubious about your claim, Feathers, by the way: that 33 year old will have access to better medical care, will know a lot more about nutrition and what to do and not do while pregnant, and will almost certainly be both better fed and safer in her environment; but okay, never mind, let’s go with your claim that age is the *only* important factor —

    But even so! She marries, because she believes your facts about how waiting until she is 30 will leave her either sterile or with mutant children. She has kids young. Now your 20 year old is 26. Her marriage has failed, as more than half of these early marriages do. Now she has two babies, and no education. Her young husband can’t get a job that pays anything, so he’s not paying much in child support. And if he fails to pay his child support, in many states he runs a real risk of going to prison. Do you honestly think any of them are better off?

    And yes, since you ask, I do not think 20 years olds are making fully conscious choices. (Science backs me on this one. It’s the pesky forebrain issue.)

    Does this mean I think we should deny twenty years olds the *right* to make decisions about their lives? No, absolutely not. If you’ve read my other articles, you can see I think we should let six year olds make (most) decisions about their lives.

    People’s lives and the decisions about them should be left to the people to make. That’s just absolute.

    But that doesn’t mean we don’t give advice. That doesn’t mean we keep them ignorant, either, or lie to them about what the facts actually are.

    And telling teenagers that if they don’t get married at 20 and start having babies RIGHT AWAY that they will never have healthy children is just a gross misrepresentation of the truth. Telling them that early marriage is a path to prosperity is *also* (for almost all young adults) a big fat lie.

    That latter bit? That’s what I’m saying in this essay.

  16. “Strong unions and better labor laws” is exactly the sort of policy changes I meant when I wrote that we should change “our society in a way so that young adults can more quickly achieve financial independence and having young children is affordable for the average full time worker in his or her 20’s.” I never said that women SHOULD marry and have kids young. As another reader mentioned, I said that there are increased risks of having babies after 35, not 25. Those risks are conservative “lies” as you suggest. Risks of infertility, chromosomal disorders, miscarriage, and the mother’s health all increase after 35. Again, I’m not advocating when any woman should choose to have a kid. There are pros and cons to getting pregnant at any age. Different choices work for different people in different circumstances, which is why it is condescending to write an article telling *adults* what arbitrary guidelines they should impose on their personal life decisions.

    People in their late teens and early 20’s are adults, btw, not “kids” as you called them. Young adults been taking on adult responsibilities, making adults choices, and facing adult consequences for a long time, and don’t deserve to be condescended to like a 8th grader.

    I don’t read what conservative pundits have to say nor do I watch Fox news. You seem to assume I do, as you keep telling me not to believe in their lies. I certainly don’t think academia is elitist in some horrible way as most of the people in my family including myself have graduate degrees. Certainly conservative messages are out there (you linked to a couple) but how is it any better to make the same mistake that Parker and Fleischer are making and state that the solution to poverty is found in individuals changing their lifestyles and personal life choices? You wrote, “The solution to poverty is to encourage all our children to avoid marriage until they are at least 25.” Oh really? Because I thought poverty was caused mainly by not enough jobs paying a living wage combined with high costs of living. I have a friend with a Masters degree on food stamps. He’s single, no kids. I got another friend who waited until she was 30 to have her daughter, and has a college degree. Right now she has a full time job in an office that pays her under the poverty line. I myself earn less than $9K a year working only part time because it would cost more to put my kids in day care than I can earn. I am completely financially dependent on my husband’s income. Yet I waited until I was 26 to get married and until I was 31 and had a Masters degree to have kids. The only reason I’m not poor is because I’m married to a great guy with a well-paying job. And incidentally, a cousin of mine and her hubby married at 21 and neither finished college. He has his own business, she has a good job as a receptionist, and they have a beautiful life together with their daughter (who she had before she turned 25.) I’m not saying that Parker and Fleischer are correct that marriage is the solution, but your “solution” isn’t any more grounded in reality.

    Yes, I am aware that education of women lifts people out of poverty. In the third world. Here in the developed world things work a bit differently. For example, many people give up more lucrative but dull careers in management or administration in exchange for student loan debt and the chance at a more intellectually stimulating career in the arts or humanities. I certainly didn’t go into fine arts for financial security! Also here in America, diploma mills prey on working class families who are seeking financial security, but instead land in huge amounts of student loan debt, but without the networking connections or work experience to get the same higher-paying jobs as their middle and upper class counterparts. There are other forms of higher education, but the costs of all higher education are outpacing the cost of living, and the rising number of higher paying jobs is outpaced by the number of people getting higher education. We’re seeing an increasing number of PhD in certain fields ending up unemployed or underemployed, and adjuncts doing more of the teaching for what amounts to barely minimum wage and zero job security. Now nearly half of new college graduates take jobs that don’t require a college education. This is a problem with our economy and social policies. It can’t be solved by people just putting marriage and kids on hold.

    One last question. Who is your intended audience for this article? Do you honestly think that young teenage girls who are in demographics susceptible to harmful conservative messages about early marriage are reading an atheist parenting blog? And even if they are, would such young people heed your warnings when even your fellow liberal, feminists such as myself are finding your tone incredibly condescending?

  17. You really seem to love straw man arguments. Mutant babies and all that. I’m sure there are conservatives who say these extreme messages you are arguing against, but you haven’t cited any. While I don’t agree with Parker and Fleischer’s columns that you linked to, you totally misrepresented them. In her last paragraph Parker states that marriage isn’t a cure-all. Both her and Fleischer are basically making arguments in favor of marriage based on stats that show that married people are less likely to be poor. And you are making the argument that people (esp women) should put off marriage because people who marry young tend to end up poor. You are all making the same goddamned mistake – acting as if people making personal life choices based on such arguments (“Gee, Phil, maybe we shouldn’t get married until we’re older. After all, statistics show that postponing marriage is good for our future financial security.” AND “Well I don’t know, Wanda, there’s a lot more single women living in poverty than married ones.”) And the worst mistake, thinking that trends in marriage and divorce are the CAUSE rather than the result of other economic forces.

  18. “Mutant babies” was a joke. I’m guessing we don’t share a sense of humor.

    You don’t have to watch Fox News or read the Conservatives to imbibe their arguments and their worldview. Their mythos has become conventional wisdom, so common that you (for example) can repeat their arguments, without even knowing their sources. This is what makes them so dangerous.

    I agree with you that the student loan situation is untenable. I agree with you that for-profit universities are a scam. I agree with you that our present economic situation is horrific (I think I’ve said that several times now). None of this obviates my central point.

    Seriously, I don’t know who you’re arguing with. I agree with most of your points. Poverty is (also) caused by the lack of unions, by terrible wages, by the lack of jobs that pay living wages, by the fact that we have a for-profit health care system, by the way we have, over the past 30 years, transferred the cost of education from the state to the individual. All of that is true.

    Why you insist that it is not *also* true that early marriage, coupled with early child-bearing, are a cause of poverty, and that we can work against poverty by encouraging people to delay both marriage and child-bearing, is what puzzles me.

    My audience: well, it’s right there in the title of the website, isn’t it? Grounded Parents.

    Some of us are raising kids. We’re going to be giving them advice about this very matter. As I say in the essay, I’ve got a fifteen year old. I have — in fact! — been giving her advice. You say you have kids too. I assume you will, eventually, be in a position to advise your children on this subject.

    Will you be advising your children to marry at 20? Before they have finished their education? Will you tell them to do as you are arguing here? Get married young! Have babies at 20! It’s not like it makes any difference to your education or your economic prospects! Besides (you will tell them) no one makes a decision that way! Based on LOGIC? Come now!

    Is that what you plan?

    Or is that just for the children of — what did you call them again? — the “underprivileged”?

  19. Actually I think all the economic woes do obviate your central point. Your point is that marrying young leads to the hardships of poverty. Remove the hardships of poverty and then not only will many more of those early marriages last, but for those that still end in divorce, it won’t be a financial catastrophe to end up a single mom without a professional career.

    Yes, we agree on most. I take objection to your advising individuals on personal life decisions using arbitrary guidelines and your claim that “The solution to poverty is to encourage all our children to avoid marriage until they are at least twenty-five.” It is ridiculous when conservatives think giving individual life advise will solve serious economic woes, and it is ridiculous when liberals do it. Arguments based on stats and trends are a good basis for public policy, not personal life advise. Or did you fail to notice that about of those young marriages don’t end in divorce and poverty? For a hell of a lot of people, marriage and kids at a young age is the best life decisions they’ve ever made. For a lot of other people it *would* be the best thing if there were all the proper social safety nets and aid for working and middle class families in place to get couples through common hardships. So to make it crystal clear, I disagree with your blanket statement that nobody should get married and have kids young, or that such advise is any part of the solution (much less THE solution) to poverty in America.

    As for giving advise to kids, I know enough about parenting to know that young adults rarely base their most major life decisions on their parents’ advise. Nor should they. Read Siddhartha.

  20. The rate of divorce for those marrying at 20 and earlier is much higher than the rate of divorce for those who marry after 25 — which is hardly surprising: nearly 50% v. less that 25%.

    Citation here:

    And here:

    Education also plays a big factor. Women who are educated tend to marry later ( at 25 years or later) and to bear children later; however, they also tend to stay married.

    So yes, in fact, the young marriages, while they will not always end in divorce (and thus often poverty) will have a much greater chance of doing so.

    As for whether or not young adults base their major life decisions on the advice of their parents, well, that depends on the parenting, I suppose. But what are you doing reading (and arguing) on a parenting blog if you think parents have no influence on the lives of their children?

  21. Wow. Just. Wow. You managed to put a lot of words in my mouth.

    I never claimed that age was the *only* important factor in when someone decides to have children.

    I never made any claims about a “poor 20 year old” versus a “well off, educated 33 year old” – you did that to try to skew the point in your favor. How about a well off 20 year old versus a poor 33 year old? Access to financial resources would make a difference either way.

    Then there’s this: “She marries, because she believes your facts about how waiting until she is 30 will leave her either sterile or with mutant children”. What? The age that was noted, TWICE at the time of your posting this, was 35. That increased risk of birth defects and other issues start going up at 35 is not “my fact”, it is medical fact. I was also very careful to point out that I’m NOT saying that no one can or should have children any later.

    “Feathers”? Really? If you are going to claim that this is just another lighthearted joke (you know, like the mutant babies were), I have to tell you that your sense of humor leaves a lot to be desired.

    Peoples lives are not black and white. There is no playbook you can follow to ensure that you will financially succeed in life. Working hard can sometimes pull you out. Sometimes it just leaves you tired. I am going to directly quote you again: “The solution to poverty is to encourage all our children to avoid marriage until they are at least twenty-five.” If you are really concerned about poverty, the things to be talking about are the social issues laid out in the previous posts.

  22. Thanks for a bunch of stats that prove that risk of divorce and poverty is higher among those who marry younger. Good thing you cleared that up for all of is who were disputing those claims. Oh wait, nobody disputed those claims. Like I said, you love those straw men.

    My problem was with you using exactly those sort of stats as a basis for promoting arbitrary guidelines for personal life decisions. Those stats are a good basis for public policies, not individual life advice because for the half of 20 year olds whose marriages will not end in divorce, your advise is in error.

    Only ten percent MFAs in studio art will go on to a career in studio art. My MFA cost me two years and tens of thousands in student loan debt. My parents supported my decision to get my MFA, should they not have? (Not that their disapproval would have stopped me.)

    My saying that parents advise tends not to be a big factor in the major life decisions of young adults is hardly the equivolent of saying that parents have no influence on the lives of their children. But I don’t seem to be the only one having words put in my mouth.

    In addition, there are reasons for a parent like me to be interested in what other like-minded parents have to say other than just figuring out how to mold our kids a certain way. I’m reading articles on this blog because many are relatable, interesting, entertaining, and informative. And it’s nice to not feel alone when I realize that I just can’t know what challenges will be unique to my daughters’ generation or how to best prepare them for the future. Goodness knows I’ve seen my intelligent, well-educated parents, aunts, and uncles push some outdated advise on my generation.

  23. Yeah, I think we’re just going to have to quit now.

    I’ve attempted to meet you on common ground, I’ve provided evidence, I’ve made my points.

    Further, I have acknowledge *your* points when they were accurate. You continually failed to do the same — instead, when you were wrong, you simply moved the goal posts. This is not how one holds a good faith argument.

    I don’t see any point in continuing this.

    I apologize for calling you “Feathers.”

  24. Nobody has disputed the facts you presented. The argument has been with how you think people should change their behavior based on those facts.

    You did not acknowledge my points when they were “accurate”. You acknowledged my political stances when you agreed with them. When you disagreed with my opinions, you misrepresented what I said, twisting them into something absurd and extreme. I have already acknowledged that we seem to agree on political policies as they relate to this topic.

    I moved no goal posts. I responded directly to your article, even quoting you several times and twice quoted the sentence I found most disagreeable.

    To sum up: in this article you suggest that people, especially women, should postpone marriage and children until at least their mid-20’s and after they have established some kind of education beyond high school and achieved some level of financial security. You assert that if Americans would follow this advise, the social ills associated with poverty would be significantly lessened.

    Assuming I have stated your main points correctly, a sum-up of my response is this: Putting social pressure on people when it comes to their PERSONAL LIFE DECISIONS is a shitty thing to do. Statistics are a basis for public policy, not making the millions of people who marry young feel like losers, especially when half of them are in good marriages that last! The problems of poverty are much better solved with public policies and ONLY with public policies.

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