Most of the time, you’ll find first person commentary on the Red Dirt Chronicles. Today, however, I’m going to share with you a “third person” report in full because it explores a specific question directly related to a cause for higher divorce: That is, marrying at younger ages than the general national average.
In Oklahoma, our average age at first marriage has measured steadily for the last 10-15 years around 18 months to 2 years younger than the national average. And, research shows that those who marry in the 18-22 (approx) age bracket tend to get divorced more, and more quickly, than those who marry a little later (25-26ish). Professor Emeritus Robert Spector of the University of Oklahoma once said in his family law lecture, “There is one solution to immediately affect the divorce rate in a downward trend. Simply raise the legal age of marriage in the State of Oklahoma to 21.” And although this statement was provided in a way where those in the classroom understood it was not a change likely to happen, the truth still remains: By and large, young Oklahomans make decisions to enter marriages earlier than their national peers and our divorce rate is generally one of the top three in the nation.
Of course many factors are in play related to this situation. Some cite religious factors related to the struggle between being encouraged to abstain from sexual intercourse versus the physical strife to do so in speeding up the decision to marry. Others cite more traditional views and modeling of parents who also married young and see no problem, many times rightfully so, in marrying at younger ages. And finally, many anecdotal conversations with youth under thirty cite varying degrees of pressure (and many cite extreme degrees) from their families of origin – encouraging them to “make the next step” toward their life narrative of finishing school, getting married and having children. And there is always the factor of teenage pregnancy sometimes leading to marriage.
Two years ago I was contacted by a Family and Consumer Sciences Extension educator in Dewey county. She was concerned because anecdotal observations in her particular area led her to believe that students may be marrying even younger than they were a decade ago. She asked me to consider setting up a study to investigate this question. I hired an undergraduate research assistant to pull a clean copy of marriage and divorce records for the state so we could see if there were shifts toward a downward age trend. I’d like to note that this study was funded by the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative and we are very grateful for their contribution to our efforts.
While our findings showed that there were no shifts toward marrying younger, we did decide to look into the general questions of “why.” We felt if we understood factors related to decision making about marriage, we could then consider what was, and was not within, the control of any intervention to make change. So, Dan Hubler, my graduate research assistant and Kate Kirk, my undergraduate assistant and I went on road trips. Three to be exact. Continue reading Young Oklahomans Speak: How Do You Decide The Appropriate Age For Marriage?