According to government statistics as reported by Dalrock, the age at which young people are getting married has been steadily rising. When I encounter government statistics a question always comes to mind: do these numbers have any significance in the real world?
I’m not, in this case, questioning the accuracy of the statistics. Let’s assume that the number of government marriage licenses is being reported with sufficient accuracy. But there’s no biblical commandment to get a marriage license. Do these colored lines really equate with the number of people becoming married?
The answer, of course, is yes and no.
In Western society it has become acceptable to have a pre-marriage relationship called “dating.” After a few “dates,” sexual intercourse is generally taken for granted. It’s also acceptable, even encouraged, for dating couples in a long term relationship (LTR) to move in together, to engage in cohabitation.
Cohabitation has many of the same benefits as marriage. In lots of ways it’s a satisfactory substitute. Many have noted that the breakup of a cohabiting couple is very like divorce. It seems that these couples actually do bond, physically and psychologically, just like marrieds. If we could somehow include LTR couples with those buying marriage licenses we might find that age-at-first-marriage has remained fairly constant over the years.
This would indicate that the statistics are not useful.
On the other hand…
Most Americans today, even Christians, think of government as being the final arbiter of right and wrong: a marriage isn’t a marriage unless a license says so. It’s rare to find a husband and wife who lack a marriage license (I’m personally aware of only one such couple). Their numbers are statistically insignificant.
And “living together” evades the major prerequisite for marriage, both biblical and secular. There is no conscious commitment – no contract or covenant between the partners. In our culture a marriage license has become functionally equivalent to commitment. In this light, cohabitation is almost never a “real” marriage.
This leads me to conclude that the statistics do have significance.