Winners and losers from delayed marriage

There’s a long tradition for Western countries to preach to women in the developing world about the importance of planned parenthood – telling them they will improve their own lives and those of their children if they delay having families until they have established themselves. 

So how is it that when it comes to our own disadvantaged communities this vital lesson is conveniently forgotten?

I’ve just published an article, in The Australian Magazine looking at recent changes in marriage patterns. It’s based on a report, Knot Yet, from the Washington -based Brookings Institute, which examines who are the winners and losers from the shift in the age of first marriage. There’s been a huge leap over the last forty years in the age of first marriage – from the early twenties to almost thirty.

The Knot Yet report finds this delay is having profound social impacts – patterns I found to be mirrored in Australia.

  • Delayed marriage means richer women. Professional women end up earning far more by setting themselves up before marriage – a cool $18,000 p.a. according to the US research.
  • Men are earning less by delaying putting their nose to the grindstone. Most well-educated women are still seeking to marry before having children.
  • Yet many miss out in the competitive 30s marriage market – there are nearly 100,000 childless never-married women in their forties.
  • Less-educated women are less likely to marry but have children in defacto relationships – which are 3 times more likely to break up within four years than marriages. Children in these families show poorer learning, social and emotional development and experience poorer parenting.  

The critical finding is that these dramatic changes in marriage patterns are adding to the gap between the haves and have-nots.  Well-educated women and their children are better off and live more stable lives while the marriage choices of less-educated women increase their families’ disadvantage.

For all the talk about gay marriage, these are the marriage patterns impacting most on our society. So why aren’t we talking about them?

Read my article – For Better or for Worse.

5 Responses to Winners and losers from delayed marriage

  1. Helen May 12, 2013 at 11:03 am #

    I have only one thing to say to career women who “missed” out on marriage, with the exception of having children, you are not missing out on anything good.

    • Bettina May 14, 2013 at 11:00 am #

      Oh dear, that’s a grim view, Helen. Obviously marriage is hard work for some but the lucky ones thrive in this institution. All the evidence shows married people are the happiest group in our society so something must be working… and why else are gay people so desperate to come on board?

      • Jane June 16, 2013 at 5:13 pm #

        Well considering that women live longer outside of marriage and men live longer in it Helen’s point is not so ‘grim’ as accurate, Bettina.

        Women in marriage effectively shorten their life expectancy while adding to men’s. That actually sounds like the clinical definition of ‘grim’.

        Gender inequality is hardly your strong suit given your appallingly biased article in the AFR which was nothing more than you pandering and peddling to the old guard of Boomer men with oppression envy. In your defense of men who cry ‘poor’ you fail to mention the huge discrepancies in income that still exist between men and women and the discrepancies in representation in the top jobs or the amount of unpaid labour in the home in your facile and one-sided violin playing to your male demographic cohort of AFR readers.

        When you take the broader picture into account I’d say it’s a fair expectation of these older women to want the men to have something to show for the years of positive discrimination that they have enjoyed at the expense of women. This positive discrimination women themselves have subsidized through being offered the lesser paying roles or the same roles with less pay and through the hours of unpaid labour in home that have made these men’s careers possible. Australian women are still doing the lion’s share of unpaid labour in the home and this only goes up with participation in the paid labour market.

        A particularly glaring omission is the fact that men almost universally seek younger women in online dating…but you don’t mention this at all in your biased analysis.

        I have no sympathy for Boomer execs for whom the worm has turned and nor should you.

        • Bettina June 16, 2013 at 5:28 pm #

          Jane, you are wrong about married women’s shorter life span. Both married men and women live longer than singles.. see sociology prof Linda Waite’s research. And it is absurd to talk about wives’ unpaid work without taking into account the vital issue that men and women do almost identical hours of total work – paid plus unpaid. How is it fair to ignore the extra hours men put into supporting their families through paid work? My AFR article acknowledged women’s reasonable concern about protecting their hard-won assets while simply suggesting that late divorces can put men in a really disadvantaged financial situation. And when that happens through no fault of their own, it seems reasonable that we don’t sneer at these men.

  2. Rose December 17, 2013 at 9:55 pm #

    Thank you so much for your commentary. I am so sick of being discouraged from discussing important issues like these in a social climate where hetereosexual marriage has suddenly become a dirty word. Why are we so afraid to speak the truth? This is not motivated opinion, these are the findings of a published study. I genuinely look forward to reading more of your articles.