Being "of marriageable age" isn't just a myth perpetuated by Sri Lankan aunties - it's a theory backed by science.
Much of Sri Lankan society endures and perpetuates a single sanctioned life trajectory: birth, education, job(s), marriage, children, retirement, death. An enduring product of historical factors, such as colonialism, as well as economic ones, like capitalism, as much as it is a by-product of social structures and cultural beliefs, relatively few people stray from this course. It is what our society is built on, and right smack bang in the middle of it is arguably its most decisive catalyst: marriage. An institution that is remarkably divisive despite being rooted in the concept of unity, marriage can be a critical determinant of your overall well-being, quality of life, financial future and social standing – whether or not you care about any of those things. Arguments surrounding marriage range from whether or not lifelong monogamy is for everyone to how best to preserve a marriage’s longevity to the systemic exclusion of couples who aren’t cisgender or heteronormative from the institution of marriage and the wider wedding industry. For most young Sri Lankan women, however, most marriage-related concerns boil down to one fundamental question – when?
The marriageable age
The general consensus – though it may vary in accordance with religious, cultural and social differences – is somewhere around your mid-twenties: young, degree(s) achieved, having completed the formative years of a hopefully promising career, and with your frontal lobe finally fully developed. The pressure to have your life together enough to permanently implicate someone else in it tends to mount a little bit earlier than your cut-off date, often around the age of 24. In between warning you that “all the good ones will be gone” if you wait too long and ominous, slightly unsettling whispers of “you’re next” at family weddings, the aunties are working overtime to ensure that you are acutely aware of an urgently approaching deadline, one that extends from your mid-twenties to your early thirties, and disappears entirely by 35. But what if science said the same thing?
A study conducted by Nick Wolfinger, a sociologist at the University of Utah, seems to be the most commonly cited source in the discourse surrounding the best age to get married. The study, cited across a large number of publications at the time of its release in 2015, including Time, Psychology Today and the Times of India, states that the best age to get married is between 28 and 32 years old. Wolfinger reaches this conclusion on the basis that people married between the ages of 28 and 32 are least likely to split up in the coming years, with the chosen age range therefore being optimal for longevity. According to Wolfinger’s research, the odds of divorce decline as you reach your late twenties and early thirties, after which they begin to rise again – for each year after 32, the chances of divorce increase by roughly 5%.
Wolfinger’s study is hardly the be-all-end-all of the matter, however. Other sociologists were quick to respond with alternative theories. Philip Cohen, from the University of Maryland, refuted Wolfinger’s claim that your odds of divorce increase the later you get married, stating instead that the best age to get married if you want to avoid divorce is actually between 45 and 49. Bet the aunties are going to love that.
How do you determine a marriage’s success?
Judging the success of marriage based on longevity alone, however, is problematic on many counts. Divorce statistics are extremely difficult to discern, often distorted by inaccuracies or complications during legal or administrative processes. Also up for consideration is the fact that long marriages are not necessarily happy ones. Often women will remain in unsatisfactory or even abusive marriages as a result of the immense social, financial and psychological strain of divorce, an act that is still a considered taboo in many parts of the world, including South Asia. Furthermore, there are a number of indicators besides longevity that, while more difficult to measure, may be a clearer reflection of whether or not a marriage is successful, including the overall wellbeing, stability, and happiness of a couple. How long a marriage lasts, therefore, may not be the best measure of its success. And while both Wolfinger and Cohen’s respective recommendations with regard to optimal marriage age are still valid and worthy of consideration, they should nevertheless be taken with a grain of salt.
Where does that leave us?
Where, then, does this leave us? Enter the only thing more reliable than science: maths. The 37% Rule is mathematical theory initially devised to enhance efficiency in the process of job hiring, and states that when you need to assess a number of options in a limited amount of time, the best time to make your decision is when you’ve viewed 37% of those options. By this point in the process, you would have gathered enough information to make an informed decision, but you wouldn’t have wasted your time looking at more options than necessary, which can also overwhelm and exhaust your capacity for decision-making. By that logic, if you’re looking for love between the ages of 18 and 40, the best age to begin seriously considering marriage and a long-term partner would be right after your 26th birthday, which is 37% into the 22-year span. The rule suggests that, if you settle down too early, you may miss out on higher-quality partners, but waiting too long causes good options to become increasingly unavailable, reducing your chances of finding a perfect match.
This theory too has flaws. The first of which is that it’s maths – cold hard logic may be the solution to a number of problems, but it can only predict so much when it comes to matters of the heart. Additionally, what we look for in a partner can change dramatically between the ages of 18 and 40, and therefore the 37% cut-off age of 26 may be too early for some to decide on a long-term partner, or too late for others. The danger of missing out on “higher quality partners” also seems a little bit too clinical, especially if you believe in the concepts of soulmates or fate, neither of which are very likely to obey a mathematical theory.
What’s the takeaway?
So what have we learned, really? If science says between 28 and 32, and maths says 26, and both of these theories have considerable shortcomings, then what really is the definitive consensus on the best age to get married? If your main goal is longevity, then getting married between the ages of 28 and 32 may very well work out for you. If your priority is the quality or suitability of your partner, then 26 may be your sweet spot. But the existence of a rule always guarantees exceptions. Science and maths, useful as they are, are unlikely to be deciding factors in when you get married, and to whom. Probability and statistics are rational and reasoned, while love and fate tend to be entirely arbitrary and often defiant of logic. And while it would be convenient if your life trajectory obeyed any of these rules, it would be no less natural if it did not.
This article was originally published as ‘The Best Age To Get Married, According To Science’ in the March 2020 Issue of Cosmopolitan Sri Lanka. For more relationship-related content, grab a copy of our latest magazine or subscribe here.
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