Couples have long felt less than ready for marriage, but delaying because of financial fear is relatively new. Marriage used to be a foundation for adult life, a base from which a couple would launch into work, start a family and try to carve a niche in a middle-class lifestyle. Now, young people increasingly delay marriage or having a baby until they feel they've achieved some success. Marriage has moved from first step to capstone, experts say, against a backdrop of shifting economic and societal standards. Newlyweds and first-time parents are older. But the numbers alone, demographers warn, don't capture the nuance of complicated and related decisions that include personal choice, economics, education and expectations.
Conway believes changing labor-market forces will make a difference. Noted matchmaker and author Hellen Chen, whose recent "Matchmaker of the Century" topped six lists at Barnes and Noble, has a different view. She believes finding the right match and marrying despite the economy is the right course.
People think money problems mean they shouldn't marry or raise a baby, she said. But family math is different. "One plus one is more than two. When you marry and work together and produce together, you make more money." She points, as proof, to past generations.
Couples are more likely to stay together in marriage than any other relationship permutation. So she tells people to date someone with whom they might be serious to see if marriage is in the offing. Then marry, without waiting years, which weakens bonds. After that, together, "date for the rest of your life," she said.
People who are serious about being together and who commit to it will find that their economics fall in line, she predicted, citing Census Bureau stats showing the median income of married men is higher than that of single men, $55,958 to $34,634.
"There is this misconception that one needs to have money before getting married. But the truth is, getting married will help a couple be more focused in their goals and careers and thus it will increase their ability to earn better wages," she said.