by Steve Wood
In Part I of The Courtship Question, I discussed how a return to a younger age for marriage, while certainly not a cure-all for sexual immorality, is one way to preserve purity and build stronger marriages. This recommendation is nothing new. I cited St. John Chrysostom’s fifth century warning to fathers about the dangers of delaying their sons’ marriages.
Yet in the United States sky-high divorce rates are associated with early marriages. This is not true in all parts of the world. In many cultures with low divorce rates, teenage weddings are common. It probably isn’t early marriage itself that is so destabilizing, but certain cultural factors affecting young people create the high rates of divorce.
Although it could be argued that there are several causes contributing to the high divorce rates associated with early marriages, I’ve identified two primary ones listed below:
Cause #1. Too little family income coupled with inadequate breadwinner preparation
A Stanford University study on the economic influences on divorce found that lower income levels prevelant in early marriage is associated with high divorce rates. Couples requiring government financial support had twice the divorce rates as couples who didn’t require such assistance. Increases in income, especially that of the husband, lower the probability of divorce until it reaches a high income level.
Yet an earlier marriage and economic stability is possible, if a young man begins preparing to support a family before it is commonly done today.
In biblical times, a Jewish boy crossed over into manhood at 12. It was the age he became “a son of the Law” and also when he chose a trade. The teen years were spent preparing for the responsibilities of family life. Rather than the accelerated maturity of biblical days, today’s teen years are a time of suspended maturity. The result is that young men often don’t give serious thought to the necessary preparations to support a family until they are ready to propose.
With the assistance of their fathers and educational institutions, it would be wiser for young men to begin earlier training to support a family as a critical step in courtship preparation. A good starting point is making use of career counseling and good personality, aptitude, and career instruments. Part-time and summertime jobs should be chosen for work experience and career development.
Cause #2. Teen lovers know better than parents
Mark Twain is alleged to have said, “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astounded at how much he had learned in seven years.”
One of the reasons for marital success for older couples may be the dramatic increase in the parents’ I.Q. that comes with age. Love songs proclaim that teen lovers know better than parents. How many teen marriages, fueled by one or both spouses fleeing a troubled family background, run into a troubled marriage (described in chapter 2 of ABCs of Choosing a Good Wife).
The scriptures and contemporary research highlights the importance of obtaining parental approval from both spouses’ parents for a satisfying marriage. I imagine that a lower divorce rate would accompany teen marriages that begin with courting in the family circle and proceed towards marriage with the advice and blessings of parents.
For those with sufficient financial security, emotional maturity, and parental approval, I encourage consideration of earlier courtship and marriages. Remember, this is only a general guideline. There are myriads of individual situations, such as required training for certain professions, that would call for adjustments.
For more on this topic, read chapters five and six of my book, The ABCs of Choosing a Good Wife. I recommend you examine these chapters before your son enters his teen years. I also recommend giving your teenage sons a general idea of the financial costs of raising a family. This doesn’t have to be in-depth, just let them survey the budget worksheets in Phil Lenahan’s 7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free: A Catholic Guide to Managing Your Money.