Most engaged or married people will say they’ve met “the one.” Some “just knew” and, from that point on, they were ready to walk down the aisle and say, “I do.” But is it really that simple? Are the telltale signs of marriage rooted in intuition? While it might be the case for some people, others have specific beliefs concerning matrimony and even pre-wedding checklists that must be addressed before putting a ring on it.
Perceptions of marriage and what should occur beforehand will always be subjective, but what are some common beliefs? We surveyed over 1,000 people currently in a relationship about what needs to be done or discussed before the wedding day. Keep reading to see what we found.
There is a lot of pressure around getting married – especially for women approaching their 30s. Biological clocks are often the argument used, perpetuating the notion that if a woman doesn’t settle down and get married now, they may never birth their own children. Despite the constant pressure, Americans are getting married later in life, with millennials marrying later than every other generation. Science points to age 26 as the sweet spot to consider taking bigger steps toward commitment, and it seems most people agree.
When asked about the minimum age people should be when married, almost 35 percent of respondents said between the ages of 24 and 26. Less than 5 percent said ages 27 to 29 were ideal. But what people think should happen isn’t actually what does. The most common time to get married was, indeed, between the ages of 24 and 26, but 19 percent also married at ages 27 to 29. Another 12.4 percent married in their early 30s. While respondents thought getting married after age 35 was too late, around 20.7 percent of people actually got married in or beyond their mid-to-late 30s.
Get to Know Each Other
In recent years, not only are people waiting until they’re older to get married, but also they’re spending more time in relationships before moving on to the next step. Figuring out when you’re ready to pull the trigger on spending a lifetime together can be tough for many people. Long-term relationships before marriage obviously give couples more time to get to know one another and make sure they are making the right decision, but it isn’t necessarily a guaranteed success story. Compatibility can change throughout the years, and being together two, four, or six years won’t prevent personalities, desires, and life goals from also changing.
Sometimes the best advice you can get is from people who have been in your shoes. We asked currently married people how long they thought couples should be together before walking down the aisle, and a majority (40.9 percent) said 12-17 months was the minimum amount of time couples needed to get to know each other before tying the knot.
Aside from compatibility, being prepared for marriage as an individual is extremely important to the success of that marriage. So what do people believe they need to do on their own before solidifying their commitment as a couple? Men and women thought being financially independent was the most important thing before marriage. Women were more likely than men, however, to think building solid friendships, pursuing hobbies, and living alone should be done on their own, but men weren’t too far behind in those beliefs either. On the other hand, men were just slightly more likely than women to think they needed to have an established career before settling down. This is likely due to gender roles making men assume the role of provider for their families.
The perceived experiences individuals needed to have before marriage were also pretty uniform across the generations. Over half of baby boomers, Gen Xers, and millennials agreed they needed to be financially independent first. Baby boomers were more likely than the other two generations, however, to think finishing school should be a top priority before marriage. Having an established career was also more important, with roughly 36 percent of Gen Xers and millennials, as well as 46 percent of baby boomers, viewing it as a top priority.
Experiencing specific events as a couple is also important to a healthy and lasting marriage. Both men and women thought getting to know each other’s family and friends was the most important thing to do together before getting married. However, men cared more about living together before the wedding compared to their female counterparts. Living together before marriage has been up for debate between couples and researchers alike. Despite decades of exploring the effects of cohabitation on the likelihood of divorce, there is no clear answer. For now, it seems the best decision is what feels right for each couple.
Cohabitation also seems to be linked to generation. Only 38.7 percent of baby boomers thought living together was necessary before marriage, but 48.4 percent of Gen Xers and 66 percent of millennials thought the same. Millennials were also the most likely to think sharing financial responsibilities was important to experience together before getting married, a sentiment shared by 45.5 percent of Gen Xers and almost 43 percent of baby boomers. Combining finances and paying bills together might actually increase the success of a relationship. Relying on a partner to fully provide financially has been shown to increase the likelihood of cheating.
Diving Deep in Discussion
Of course, what is considered cheating to one person may not be considered the same to the other. That’s where communication comes in. Discussing certain things before getting married can save couples from surprises down the road. Women were almost twice as likely as men to prioritize talking about defining cheating before marriage. They were also significantly more likely to think discussing how each person feels about divorce was imperative before tying the knot. The most important discussion for both genders, though, was about whether children were in their future as a couple. Wanting or not wanting kids is actually a huge deal breaker for many people in relationships, and experts say it is a fair reason to break up – especially if all attempts at compromising fail.
Discussing how to handle finances as a couple was also an important topic of discussion, with over 80 percent of each generation making it a priority. Baby boomers were the least likely to think discussing relationship deal breakers and career goals were important to cover before marriage, but around 60 percent each of Gen Xers and millennials viewed them as important.
Confident in Commitment
Marriage means something different to everyone, and being ready for the grand commitment is extremely subjective. Still, Americans seem to agree on the right age to start thinking about marriage and important individual experiences before becoming a permanent couple. Experiences as a couple are also really important to people across all generations, especially when it comes to getting to know a potential life partner’s family and friends. Diving deep into discussions and making sure couples are on the same page is a vital step on the way down the aisle. But once you’re there, getting help and information from outside sources can help protect the family you’ve created.
We surveyed 1,003 people about what needs to be done or discussed before a couple gets married. People had to be in a relationship, engaged to be married, or married to qualify for the survey.
Respondents were 51.6 percent men and 48.4 percent women. The average age of respondents was 36 with a standard deviation of 10.9.
Parts of this project look at generational differences. In addition to the options presented in the visuals, respondents also had the option to select the silent generation, the greatest generation, or Generation Z. Due to low sample sizes, these groups were excluded from the final data visualizations.
When looking at age and marriage, we asked all respondents what the minimum age they thought people should be before getting married, and we asked people who reported being married currently what age they were when they got married. The data were formatted to exclude outliers for both.
We also looked at the minimum amount of time currently married people thought couples should be together before getting married. Respondents who reported being married were asked the minimum number of months people should be together before marriage. Some respondents reported that they didn’t have strong feelings about the length of time people should be together, and they were excluded from the final visualization of the data. All data were formatted to exclude outliers.
Questions about the experiences and discussions that should happen before marriage allowed respondents to check all options that applied. Therefore, percentages may not equal 100. In addition to the options presented in the final visualizations of the data, we gave respondents the option of selecting “other” or “there are no topics/experiences a person/couple must have before marriage.” These two options were excluded from the final data visualizations due to low sample sizes in those groups.
Respondents were asked to report their current relationship status and answer the questions based on that current status. Some married respondents might have answered based on their second or third marriages, which could have impacted the results on marriage ages.
Fair Use Statement
Know someone walking down the aisle soon, or just want to start a conversation about some of these important topics with your significant other? Feel free to share this study as long as it’s for noncommercial reuse. Our only request is that you link back here so that our contributors get credit for compiling this information.