BYU marriage statistics reflect US trends, attitudes

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The infamous myth “ring by spring or your money back” seems to have diminishing effect on BYU campus over time.

The percentage of married BYU seniors has gone down from about 42 percent in fall 1996 to 36 percent in fall 2015. These statistics reflect similar trends revealed in U.S. Census information, which shows that more and more Americans are choosing to marry later in life or not marry at all.

The changing American attitude toward marriage over time is “very similar” to that of current BYU students, according to family life assistant professor Brian Willoughby. He said many of today’s young adults delay marriage because they feel they are not ready. Many are also influenced by social and parental pressure to delay marriage, according to Willoughby.

“There’s more and more pressure on adults, in college in particular, that they need to get done with their education and have a career before they think about settling down,” Willoughby said.

Marriage statistics from University Communications show that although many BYU students are married by the time they reach senior status, the percentage of those choosing to be married during their college years has decreased over the past 20 years. (Sarah Averett)

The 2013 “Knot Yet” study confirms that there is an increasingly shared perspective among young adults that they should spend more time finishing school and stabilizing their work life before marriage. This has created a cultural trend of delaying marriage to an average age of 27 for women and 29 for men in recent years, according to the study.

“Culturally, young adults have increasingly come to see marriage as a ‘capstone’ rather than a ‘cornerstone’ — that is, something they do after they have all their other ducks in a row, rather than a foundation for launching into adulthood and parenthood,” the study states.

This cultural change has also redefined what type of marriage young adults are looking for, according to Willoughby. Many young adults have formed an ideal over time of wanting a marriage that is very satisfying and a spouse that is willing to let them have their career trajectory and hobbies. This ideal can also delay marriage, according to Willoughby.

“I think there’s a recognition that it’s going to be hard to find someone that can fit all of those little checkboxes,” Willoughby said. “I think one of the things that delays the transition is that people are waiting for that perfect person to come around.”

Delaying marriage has its costs and benefits, according to the “Knot Yet” report. While this trend has increased the percentage of adults having children out of wedlock, it has also helped to decrease America’s divorce rate and improve the socioeconomic status of women in the U.S.

2014 collaborative study between Willoughby and Scott Hall of Ball State University reveals that this cultural shift has also increased the importance young adults place on marriage over time. This creates what Willoughby calls the “marriage paradox,” or the idea that for many young adults, marriage is important, but “not right now.”

“From this perspective, young adults are not delaying marriage due to disinterest toward or an abandonment of marriage, but because they desire to put themselves in the best position to develop a healthy marital relationship,” the study states.

Although its marriage rate is decreasing, BYU stands out among other colleges as having a comparatively high percentage of married students, according to Willoughby.

“Even in a lot of other religious universities, you’re not going to see (BYU’s) level of marriage rates, and that obviously that goes back to the centrality of marriage to the gospel,” Willoughby said. “Most other religious organizations will talk about the importance of marriage, but we’re one of the few where marriage ‘should be a priority now.’”

Comparing BYU’s marriage statistical information with other universities is difficult because many colleges today do not monitor marriage statistics, according to Willoughby. Lisa Lapin, Stanford University communications associate vice president, said Stanford University does not track how many of its students are married, but that this number would be “very, very few.”

The number of BYU students who choose to be married during their college years, Willoughby said, can also be influenced by the mental goal or vision a student has of what age they’ll be when they get married. Willoughby’s dissertation found a positive correlation between high school students’ vision of what age they thought they’d be married and when they were actually married.

“All of us carry around this ideal, even as adolescents, of when we’ll get married, what that’s going to look like and who we’ll marry,” Willoughby said. “Most Latter-day Saints tend to have an early 20s timetable for themselves for marriage.”

Willoughby explained that BYU’s marriage numbers may also be comparatively high because at BYU, many people with the same marriage “timetable” are put together in one social setting.

“There are a lot of opportunities on a college campus to have dating opportunities and to find a person to marry,” Willoughby said. “There’s a lot more access to what we sometimes call the ‘marriage market.’”

Despite the changing cultural trends, many BYU students still choose to be married in college. BYU nursing student Stephanie Carteciano said she never planned to be married in her early 20s, but she has found that marrying her husband, Darryl, while they were both in school has given her extra motivation in her studies.

“Darryl and I push each other to be better and increase our capacities,” Carteciano said. “I used to want to excel in school because of recognition, but now I desire to be a better student because of him. I want to be able to help provide a good life for our family.”

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