Mark Regnerus, Ph.D., is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas, Austin, where he lives with his wife, Deeann, and their three children. He has written a fantastic article for Christianity Today called The Case For Early Marriage. It encapsulates one of the central messages of With One Voice: the biblical association of intimacy with marriage, along with the formative and stabilizing benefits of marriage, suggest that its preferable to enter the lifelong bond early in the adult years, not later. After addressing the devaluing of marriage in our culture (which is a greater problem and probably a precursor to the rising acceptance of same-sex marriage), Regnerus addresses the “elephant in the room”–the relative absence of Christian men:
Among evangelical churchgoers, there are about three single women for every two single men….
Given this unfavorable ratio, and the plain fact that men are, on average, ready for sex earlier in relationships than women are, many young Christian women are being left with a dilemma: either commence a sexual relationship with a decent, marriage-minded man before she would prefer to—almost certainly before marriage—or risk the real possibility that, in holding out for a godly, chaste, uncommon man, she will wait a lot longer than she would like. Plenty will wait so long as to put their fertility in jeopardy. By that time, the pool of available men is hardly the cream of the crop—and rarely chaste…..
Men get the idea that they can indeed find the ideal woman if they are patient enough. Life expectancies nearing 80 years prompt many to dabble with relationships in their 20s rather than commit to a life of “the same thing” for such a long time. Men have few compelling reasons to mature quickly. Marriage seems an unnecessary risk to many of them, even Christians. Sex seldom requires such a steep commitment.
As a result, many men postpone growing up. Even their workplace performance is suffering: earnings for 25- to 34-year-old men have fallen by 20 percent since 1971, even after accounting for inflation. No wonder young women marry men who are on average at least two years older than they. Unfortunately, a key developmental institution for men—marriage—is the very thing being postponed, thus perpetuating their adolescence.
Regnerus notes that though we tell young people marriage is a “big deal” (“don’t rush into a relationship” or “first loves aren’t likely the best fit” or “you have plenty of time”), we fail to mentor them about the rigors that any marriage will invariably face. Young adults therefore underestimate the role that commitment plays, as opposed to romantic feelings, which “may lead us out of a marriage as quickly as they lead us into one.” Citing the troubling statistic that 90% of Americans engage in premarital sex (a number slightly lower among Christians – 80%), Regnerus explains:
Most young Americans no longer think of marriage as a formative institution, but rather as the institution they enter once they think they are fully formed. Increasing numbers of young evangelicals think likewise, and, by integrating these ideas with the timeless imperative to abstain from sex before marriage, we’ve created a new optimal life formula for our children: Marriage is glorious, and a big deal. But it must wait. And with it, sex. Which is seldom as patient.
He then spends the rest of the article responding to five objections to early marriage:
(1) Economic insecurity
(3) A Poor Match
(4) Marrying for Sex
(5) Unrealistic expectations
Read the whole thing. Extremely provocative and an important, timely message.
Regnerus is the author of Forbidden Fruit: Sex & Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers, an outstanding (though somewhat academic) title.