There is a new and widespread epidemic in our nation and even in our churches. It’s called the not-yet-married life.
Sure, there have always been unmarried people longing for marriage, but the statistics suggest that this group is growing at an unprecedented rate in American history. In 1956, according to the United States Census Bureau, the average age at which a man was married for the first time was 22.5. For women, it was 20.1. Those numbers climbed steadily for years, then more dramatically beginning in the 1970s. Recently, they reached the ages of 29.0 for men and 26.6 for women.
Now, singleness itself, for the Christian, is not necessarily something to be lamented. After all, Paul sings the praise of singleness when he lists the spiritual benefits of being spouse-free in 1 Corinthians 7. The single life can be (relatively) free from relational anxieties (1 Corinthians 7:32), worldly distractions (1 Corinthians 7:33), and wide open for worship, devotion, and ministry (1 Corinthians 7:35). If we have the gift, Paul says to skip the ceremony, literally, and enjoy “your undivided devotion to the Lord.”
So this relatively new demographic of not-yet-married men and women in their mid-to-late twenties has the real potential to be a potent vehicle for the worship of God and the spread of his gospel. This potential means we don’t necessarily need to sound an alarm as our young people get married later and later. Without a doubt, within this trend there will be complacencies to confront and immaturities to manage and even evils to fight. But ultimately it might merely be God’s means of freeing up a generation to take their devotion to Christ deeper and further into the broken world in which we live.
Will I Be Single Forever?
The hope for a freshly mobilized unmarried demographic is real, and singleness really can and should be celebrated when God uses it to win worship and joy and life in himself. But one of the implications of these recent statistics is that a growing number of people in the church desire marriage — even feel called to marriage — and yet they have to wait longer to experience it. As Christians, we believe the vast majority of people are wired by God to receive and express love in the context of a covenant, so we shouldn’t be surprised that this growing phenomenon is hard on lots of our young men and women.