Samantha Montgomery smiles down at her engagement ring, sitting daintily atop her ring finger. “Our love isn’t the norm . . . we’re high school sweethearts. But when you love someone, you marry them.”
Samantha, 22, is a senior at the University of Kentucky, and will graduate in the upcoming weeks. And although she does not yet have a graduation mortarboard atop her head, she has a ring on her finger. She looks blissful as talks about her fiancé, even though swarms of pre-graduation finals and projects burden her schedule. She is clearly excited about her upcoming marriage, and given her age, her situation is one that is becoming more rare all the time.
According to a 2011 Pew survey, Americans are getting married later in life. On average, women get married at age 27, and men at 29, numbers substantially higher than those of couples in the 1980s and 1990s. Researchers credit the recent economic fluctuations for this, as well as the fact that more women are going to college in record numbers to pursue careers.
But Samantha believes that although she is on the younger end of the spectrum, it’s very possible to have both a happy career and a happy married life. “My fiancé and I . . . neither one of us will be the ‘stay-at-home mom or dad.’ We will have our careers and find a balance between work and family.”
Samantha also cites her parents as marital role models. “They married young, my family marries young. So this isn’t anything new for me.”
Rei Budzenski, 21, is also a young college woman who is happily engaged. Like Samantha, her relationship with her now-fiancé bloomed before college. When she was a sophomore in high school, Rei began dating Eli around the time she was eligible for her driver’s permit. She then landed a ring on her finger around the time she could drink legally.
Although excited for the upcoming wedding, Rei acknowledges that being engaged in college can create challenges. “The biggest obstacle about planning a wedding now is probably having to wait and plan the wedding around school. Money is also probably an issue. My parents are paying for mine . . . but balancing finances and friends can be difficult sometimes.”
Samantha said that she would face obstacles with her new marriage as well, since she will not finish school until at least four years in the future. “I’m applying for pharmacy schools,” Samantha said. “So when I’m accepted, that’s four more years we will face together of me being in college. He will go with me when I go to grad school; we’ll have to adjust.”
The topic of nailing down a husband in college has recently become a controversial issue, especially with the release of the publicly criticized book, Marry Smart by “Princeton Mom,” Susan Patton. The book details how to best go about getting an MRS degree (Missus degree, as in, getting a degree in finding a husband), and what women can do to best use their college years to track down their post-graduation spouse and provider. Many call Patton’s ideas outdated, and reference the current trend of older-age marriages as a sign of progress, not regress.
“People should wait until they are established and making money on their own to dive into marriage,” says Lacey Markowitz, a UK junior. “When you’re a student, it puts a strain on your relationship. You have to figure out schooling, a job, the leap into the real world, and then marriage all at once? It’s stressful enough without adding a wedding into the mix.”
Divorce rates are also climbing nationally, and age and education have a clear correlation when it comes to marital status. According to The Future of Children, Princeton-Bookings, the younger the couple, the more likely for the marriage to end in divorce, and inversely, women who marry when they are older than 30 are the least likely to become divorced.
The Future of Children also cites that women who have degrees are more likely to stay married: “While there is no clear relationship between a woman’s level of education and divorce, women who appear to have stopped short of obtaining a high school diploma or other advanced degrees have increased rates of divorce . . .women who completed high school or a bachelor’s degree were less likely to divorce than women who stopped short of attaining these degrees.”
So some good news: A college degree may mean a longer marriage, so even those who are marrying well under the national age average have a better chance of staying happily together if they have an education in their back pockets.
Maybe the ages of young women like Samantha and Rei won’t be an issue at all. After all, you can’t help the age at which you find true love.