Too young to wed?

Swoon season's here, and marriage is on the mind. You're young and in love. Why not seal the deal? But somewhere between pining for white gowns and wedded bliss, along comes Captain Buzzkill with The Stat.

You know the one: Nearly 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce. And if you're young, look out — The Stat gets even uglier.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, about 60 percent of couples who marry between the ages of 20 and 25 are destined for divorce.


We knew marriage was hard, but why is it so much harder for young couples?

The ugly truth

Most early marriages fail primarily because of emotional immaturity and limited life experience. Science plays a role, too.

"In our 20s, sometimes we don't have a strong sense of who we are as an individual," said Elaine Spencer-Carver, a social-work professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Young couples may have the chemistry but often lack the history that sustains their unions.

"Younger people are more apt to go into marriage with the expectation that the other person is going to fulfill them," said Peg Donley, a licensed marital therapist in Prairie Village. "Older people are probably a little more seasoned, more realistic. They've had a number of relationships. They're less prone to believing the relationship is going to meet their needs."

Additionally, young couples often lack the benefit of time together.

"If you talk to people who have had long-term marriages, they talk about the fun they have together," Spencer-Carver said. "Young people don't have the opportunity to build positive memories to carry them through the difficult times."

Even science is working against you when you're young and in love. Donley attributes brain activity to bungled bonds.

"Women's brains are not fully developed until age 25, and men's brains develop later, between the ages of 25 and 30," Donley said. "I tell my kids, 'You don't want to get married before your brain is fully developed.' "

Endorphins also factor in, Donley said.

"People under 25 tend to think that marriage is going to make them happy," Donley said. "They feel so good when they're with this person, and that's the way it's going to stay. Statistics indicate that endorphins involved in marriage only last three years."

After that, she said, couples who rely on romance are in trouble.

"People who jump into marriage very quickly tend to have unrealistic expectations about what marriage is going to provide over the long haul," Donley said.

That was Eric Ouderkirk's mistake when he said "I do" at 20.

"I wanted to get married and have a family," Ouderkirk, 33, said. "When I was in the middle of the marriage, I realized this isn't it."

Ouderkirk, a professional drummer in Kansas City, blames his early matrimony for missed career opportunities.

"I kick myself because I had a few opportunities to do something with my life," he said. "At the time I was in love."

Fools rush in

So if all signs and statistics point to disaster, why would couples still get married so young?

"All of us get caught up in romance, and that often brings about young marriages," Spencer-Carver said.

Our culture also makes us impatient. Technologies like Tivo, Twitter and texting have programmed us to want things now. Including wedding bells.

By the numbers

The average age for first marriage: 26 for women, 28 for men.

50 percent of all marriages end in divorce.

60 percent of all couples who marry between the ages of 20 and 25 divorce.

More than 50 percent of all first marriages are preceded by living together.

The dissolution rate of women who cohabit premaritally with their future spouse is nearly 80 percent higher than the rate of those who do not.

Sources: The National Marriage Project/University of Virginia, National Center for Health Statistics, Yale University and Columbia University-American Sociological Review.