The conventional wisdom holds that spending your twenties focusing on education, work and fun, and then marrying around 30 is the best path to maximize your odds of forging a strong and stable family life. But the research tells a different story, at least for religious couples. Saving cohabitation for marriage, and endowing your relationship with sacred significance, seems to maximize your odds of being stably and happily married.
The traditional model of marriage — not always honored in practice, but as the societal ideal — was to marry young without living together first, and with the aim of a lifetime commitment. The supposedly sophisticated critique of this model has argued that young people should do other things besides form families, that one should try on multiple relationships first, that 21-25-year-olds aren’t mature enough for lifetime commitments, and that living together first is a good test run of whether the relationship will endure. As sociology professor and National Marriage Project director W. Bradford Wilcox explains, however, his latest empirical study along with demographer Lyman Stone supports the traditional view, not that of its critics — at least among religious Americans, who may start off with the advantage of taking marriage more seriously in the first place:
Our analyses indicate that religious men and women who married in their twenties without cohabiting first…have the lowest odds of divorce in America today. We suspect one advantage that religious singles in their twenties have over their secular peers is that they are more likely to have access to a pool of men and women who are ready to tie the knot and share their vision of a family-focused life. Today, young singles like this are often difficult to find in the population at large…Shared faith is linked to more sexual fidelity, greater commitment and higher relationship quality. One Harvard study found that women who regularly attended church were about 40% less likely to divorce. The family-friendly norms and networks found in America’s churches, mosques and synagogues make religion one of the few pillars of strong and stable marriages in America today.