Millennials and Marriage

Part of the growing conversation in so many churches concerns the rising generation of Millennials and how to effectively minister to them. As both a Millennial and a member of several staffs of established churches, there are some unique challenges in this conversation. Perhaps the most pressing is the change of perspective that has occurred between ministry models in just two generations. This change in perspective has been pushed by the changing demographics of the Millennial generation around marriage and having children.

One of the leading questions that I often begin with in these conversations is simple: What is, in a quick guess, the average ages for first time marriage among Millennial men and women?

By surveying answers we often quickly get a snapshot of how close we are attached to the reality of social change that is going on in our society. Because things have changed, things have massively changed.

The average first time marriage for Millennials is, as of the 2010 Census, 28.1 for men and 25.9 for women. At this point, in early 2014, I would project that it is 29 for men and 26 for women (often depending on two factors: education and location of urban/suburban/rural.) See this chart:

First Time Marriage

For Millennials there are a host of reasons that marriage is increasingly delayed, not the least of which is growing acceptance of cohabitation, but also continuing education, less access to jobs, increased debt burdens, among other factors. The more educated a Millennial is, the longer they, generally, put off marriage.

Of course, the skyrocketing rate of cohabitation also plays into this trend. In my experience among higher educated, suburban Millennials about 66%, or 2/3rds of these Millennials, are going to cohabitate before marriage. This trend is being reflected in the number of couples cohabitating before marriage. Even though I think this number is soft (I think it is much higher) we see that as of 2012, there are 8.5 million couples cohabitating prior to marriage. This delays marriage by at least 18 to 24 months, and, even in secular eyes is a growing reason couples simply never get married:

Cohabitation

Alongside this trend of increasingly delayed marriage is the trend of delaying first time child-births in women. Earlier today I read a terrific post by Ashley McGuire at the Family Studies Blog that discussed issues around child-births and women between 20 and 40. One of the graphics that was supplied in the post showed trends of age and education for first time child-births:

average first birth

Another reality behind these numbers concerns how 55% of child-births to mothers between the ages of 20-29 are to single moms. So, we can see that many Millennial families, even in their first time marriage, begin with a blended family situation of one or more children, likely, from another relationship.

So, in seeing this trend of increasingly delayed marriage among Millennials coupled with delayed child-bearing means that most Millennials are not settling into their “family life” (or a “nested life stage”) until their mid-30s. Whereas, 25 years ago, you could plan and program for a young adult ministry that reached married couples with children in their mid-20s, this is simply no longer the case. With the effects of delayed marriage and child-births impacting Millennials, we are seeing couples in their early 40s with children heading to kindergarten.

If your current ministry uses a life stage segmented approach to ministry, these statistics and realities should begin shaping how you approach breaking out those issues. Another challenge in multi-generational churches is that, in light of these realities, older generations will not have the same life experiences so many of the younger generations sitting next them are having.

All of this breaks to beginning a different conversation about how we, as churches, are going to approach ministry and marriage related issues with Millennials. For churches with older leadership teams, those above 55, the distance sociologically and culturally from the 20somethings in our pews and chairs is increasing. As a result we need to spend focused, strategic moments planning how to reach and minister rather different life stage segments.

Millennials are approaching life differently. How we begin with grace and extend mercy has as much an impact as the truthfulness of the Gospel we proclaim.