Young marriage is not irresponsible

Young marriage is not irresponsible

A commenter links to this 2002 article by Frederica Mathewes-Green at National Review Online which says that teen pregnancy is not a bad thing—within a marriage, that is.

True Love Waits. Wait Training. Worth Waiting For. The slogans of teen abstinence programs reveal a basic fact of human nature: teens, sex, and waiting aren’t a natural combination.

Over the last 50 years the wait has gotten longer. In 1950, the average first-time bride was just over 20; in 1998 she was five years older, and her husband was pushing 27. If that June groom had launched into puberty at 12, he’d been waiting more than half his life.

If he had been waiting, that is. Sex is the sugar coating on the drive to reproduce, and that drive is nearly overwhelming. It’s supposed to be; it’s the survival engine of the human race. Fighting it means fighting a basic bodily instinct, akin to fighting thirst.

Yet despite the conflict between liberals and conservatives on nearly every topic available, this is one point on which they firmly agree: Young people absolutely must not have children. Though they disagree on means — conservatives advocate abstinence, liberals favor contraception — they shake hands on that common goal. The younger generation must not produce a younger generation.

But teen pregnancy, in itself, is not such a bad thing. By the age of 18, a young woman’s body is well prepared for childbearing. Young men are equally qualified to do their part.

She discusses all the biological and psychological factors which indicate that childbearing is intended for younger people. Certainly, if you watch how little sleep most college students get at night, you envy them when you’re in your late-30s and up all night with a baby.

Of course, she touches on a point that others made in the comment thread: That the financial situation today is much different than in the past. A high-school diploma is not what it once was, so now you need to a college degree, in many cases, to reach the same income level. But then you have to factor in the cost of college and the loans that come with it.

Those concerns come on top of the extended adolescence we’re seeing in people in the 20s and even 30s. Here’s what I wrote in the comments:

The first problem is the infantilization of adult and the creation of extended adolescence. In fact, adolescence is itself a recent invention. Not long ago, you were a child, then you were an adult, usually around the age of 14 or 15.

But now look at the trend: the biggest purchasers of game consoles like the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 are mid-20 to mid-30 males. (I will admit I’m not immune from society’s influence; I find myself longing for gadgets and toys.) Many college and post-college adults refuse to take responsibility for their own lives, e.g. “helicopter parents” going on interviews with the 22-year-old children.

And with this extended period of immaturity fewer and fewer people are ready to enter into a lifelong commitment. But there are those are ready and willing and they should not be discouraged just because the majority of their peers are not.

Likewise, they should seek each other out, rather than succumb to the impulses of the age.

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
17 comments
  • Our culture has been structured in such a way that the need for a college education and the cost of such is a major factor in prohibiting early marriage.  If our government leaders concluded that more children are essential to the survival of our culture, that economic reality would do a 180 in a heartbeat. 

    Even today young people are not above the kinds of sacrifices that are typical of early marriage.  Consider the cramped quarters of the dorm room.  Consider the typical first apartment of a college student.  It is made up of the sorts of gleanings that young couples used to start out married life with. 

    But I think you can only do this once and be happy about it.  Beginning a marriage no better off than the conditions of the first apartment is looked on by our society as something of a failure.

    If there were a Catholic turnaround and large families were the nature of the future, who would pay the seminary bills of those young men who were willing to make the sacrifice to enter the priesthood?  As I understand it, now the potential priest pays for his own seminary education.  Certainly large Catholic families cannot afford tuition for all of their children.  College loans fill in the gaps at low interest.  Will the same thing be provided for seminary students?

    Personally, I think the way we fund higher education by putting the burden on our children, as though they were being offered a privilege instead of the necessity it has become, is almost criminal.  No young couple should have to begin married life thousands of dollars in debt.  Mortgaging the future has never been a good idea.

  • Actually you’re mistaken. The diocese still pays for seminary. They just won’t pay off your student loans for undergraduate education.

    Personally, I think the way we fund higher education by putting the burden on our children, as though they were being offered a privilege instead of the necessity it has become, is almost criminal.  No young couple should have to begin married life thousands of dollars in debt.  Mortgaging the future has never been a good idea.

    On the other hand, there are plenty of couples who put off having kids because they think they need to have hundreds of thousands for each child to send them to college 18 years down the road.

    College tuitions are one of the biggest rackets out there because they are not based on market forces but on how much in student loans the government is willing to guarantee. Tuition and room and board increases have far exceeded the rate of inflation.

  • I really question the ideal that teen marriages are even just O.K.

    I think, although I have no data to support it, that the female body is just not mature enough to bear children best.  She needs mosre years of hormonal influence to bring her to her peak of readiness.

    Anyone agree or disagree?

  • I disagree simply for the fact that the body is ready when it’s ready and that for the entirety of human history until about 35 years ago (and in most of the rest of the world still today) women have children when they’re biologically ready at younger ages.

    Unless you can find data to support your contention I can’t buy into it.

  • “She needs more years of hormonal influence to bring her to her peak of readiness.”

    While she’s on the pill?!

    I know you didn’t say this, ann, but that does seem to be the contraception of choice, eh?

    My cousin got married at 24 and they are doing fine.  My nephew got married at 23 (I think) and they’re doing fine (although 6 years later they still don’t have any kids).

    Currently, my 15 year-old daughter wants/intends to get married by 20 or so and I’m fine with that.

    tongue wink

  • Her peak of readiness??  What the heck does that mean? 

    Most girls stop growing by about age 16.  The bony pelvis structure isn’t going to get any roomier after that, which I believe is the biggest obstacle to younger girls safely carrying and delivering a baby.  And assuming they aren’t so athletic or anorexic as to have insufficient body fat for the ovulation/menstruation cycle, (or on the pill!) they’re hormonally ready too. 

    I don’t understand what you’re getting at.

    My first baby was born when I was 21.  How much more ready did I need to be?

  • The only reason I can think of for a young woman not to be ready for childbearing in her late teens/early twenties is her hormones having been screwed up by the pill. Of course, that’s not a small concern nowadays the way doctors hand them out to teenagers like candy. It’s almost automatic that a girl of childbearing age is put on the pill to regulate her cycle or to deal with pms or any excuse they can find.

  • Ir does take a couple of years for ovulation to been regaulte itself. Most girls start at 12/13, so a few years would put her at 18. That can’t happen if a teen is put on the Pill.

    I was given a lecture at 24 for having a baby while still in school and still living in an “empty” apartment. I didn’t know collecting material goods was a prerequistite to motherhood.

    Also many young women are given the impression that an education is a safty net if a divorce occurs. Education or not, either way a mother is left poor if there is a divorce. She can’t recover the lost senority her husband has working full time. Senority and experience is the major factor to income, not just a degree.

  • I forgot to mention what happened with Edgar and Maria’s children! The boys all went on to college, and the girls married young men from well-to-do families.

    And Janet, the former maid and her Jim the policeman? Well, when they were first married, while Jim was working 15 hour days, Janet stayed home and earned extra money by taking in other peoples’ laundry which she scrubbed by hand, hung to dry and starched, ironed, and folded all right in her own 8’ x 10’ kitchen. She also took in mending and darning. When the babies started coming, she kept up this work; she had a girl for a while to watch the babies, then as they grew up the older children would help look after the younger ones while Janet worked in the kitchen. The girls left school by age 11 or so to work with their mother, and even while in school, in their free time they earned money babysitting, tending vegetable gardens, running errands, looking after elderly neighbors. They brought home every penny they earned and turned it in to their mother. Most of the boys completed 8th grade, and earned money hauling coal, selling newspapers, running deliveries and errands, shoveling snow in the winter, helping water horses and shoveling stables – all this after school. And every penny went to their parents.

    One son completed high school and won a scholarship to college. His whole family was very proud, and everyone doubled up on the shoveling snow, and doing extra laundry to earn money to help pay his living expenses. (He waited tables in the school dining room, too, to help pay his way.) He graduated, and became a successful banking professional, and helped pay for his nieces and nephews college.

  • I will research the issue.  The problem is that so many young mothers tend to be of low socio-economic status and one cannot separate out the biological from other causes of difficult deliveries and subsequent difficulties.

    I just have seen so many women over the years have difficulties with early childbearing and I have also heard that it is not advisable.  I am talking under twenty.

    The last thing I am talking about is the pill.  I see that as as assault on women except for the treatment of disease in rare circumstances.

  • A coworker of mine was fretting about her daughter’s upcoming nuptuals, especially because they were talkiing about starting a family as soon as possible. “I can’t stand it,” said my coworker, “they’re just babies themselves!” Her daughter was 29, the groom was 32. My daughter is 28 and has an 11 year old son. Now, I’m not advocating marriage at 16 with motherhood for your 17th birthday present like my daughter did, but 12 years and 4 children later, my daughter and son-in-law have a stable and loving marriage and beautiful, well cared for and loved children. They are poor as church mice, but money is all they lack. Just as Dominic surmised, they have grown up together. They have also missed the training that long term dating gives: not happy=breakup and move on to the next relationship. Years of that kind of behavior cannot be conducive to developing the kind of character which makes for longlasting marriages. And concerning the physical aspects of childbearing, by 18 most girls are not only physically capable of bearing children, they are at their peak. By the time a woman has reached her late 20’s to early 30’s if she has not born a child, her pelvis actually becomes less flexible which leads to more problems with delivery. Ovum are also aging. Sperm ages,too, just slower. Medically, a 35 year old first time mother is termed an “elderly primipara.”

  • The age of marriage has fluctuated greatly through the centuries.  In late medieval/early modern England, it was about the same as it is today in the U.S. In early twentieth-century Ireland, one of the most ultra-Catholic nations that ever was, it was even higher.  Teenage or early twenties marriage is not something I object to, but the common notion that it was the universal custom before the Sexual Revolution is not true.

  • Evidence on age of marriage (among ancient Greeks):

    Hesiod,  Works and Days,  “Let a girl mature for four years and be married in the fifth.”  (i.e. four years after menarche)

  • Early twentieth century Ireland was one of the poorest places in the world at that time. They were so poor in the Aran Islands that people who were married in their forties continued to live, each separately, in their separate parents’ houses, and could only have personal time together in the barn.

    Whereas our society is the richest ever.

  • This comment caught my eye:

    “Personally, I think the way we fund higher education by putting the burden on our children, as though they were being offered a privilege instead of the necessity it has become, is almost criminal.”

    I think exactly the opposite. I think treating college as a necessity, rather than as the priviledge it is has dramatically sunk the standards that used to exist in education. Colleges and universities are crowded with students who have absolutely no interest, nor the basic skills, to participate in higher education. Institutions of higher education have been transformed into glorified high schools partly because the public education system fails to give a K-12 education in the normal 13 alloted years. Add to that the general apathy and/or antipathy most students have with regard to education, because it’s free, because it’s not viewed as a priviledge, and you better begin to understand why higher education is a “necessity” in our modern age.

    With regard to marrying young, we also have to consider that we’ve created a society in which it has become a “necessity” for women to attain a college education to compete in the workforce. We’ve created an economy that puts some serious financial strain on single-income families.

    Then, again, these days we seem pretty glib about stretching the definition of what is a “necessity.” We treat poverty and struggle as an absolute evil. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case.

  • You beat me to the punch, Maureen.  My dad grew up in extreme poverty in Ireland in the thirties and forties.  When two of the babies fell ill, not only was there no money for the doctor, there wasn’t even a cart and horse to take them to the doctor.  They died, naturally. 

    My dad didn’t talk about it much, but there was apparently a gal he dated as a young man that he would have married, but simply couldn’t afford to.  Lucky for me, he came to America, which really was the land of opportunity for him.  He was bright and hard-working got a decent-paying job, and met and married my mother…

  • Contrary to the above, a woman’s body is ready for chlidbearing when whe’s able to get pregnant. It’s almost unheard of for any kind of harm to come to an unborn mother or child due to hormonal irregularities due to the youth of the mother (contra those due to her advanced age). Almost all of the hormones needed to maintain pregnancy are produced by the placenta, not the mother. Those hormones will cause the hips to spread and the pelvic canal to enlarge (ask any woman who’s ever been pregnant.) Frankly it’s much safer for both mother and baby if the mother is 14 years old than if she’s 35.
    I personally think people put far too much emphasis on money in asking whether they are ready for marriage. My lovely wife and I married “young”, she at 19, I at twenty. We have been married for 26 years and have 11 children and now 2.25 grandchildren. There have been plenty of times when there was no money (like right now), but never any occasions to regret our marriage, except perhaps that we didn’t wed a year or two earlier.

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