5 Reasons Religious Millennials Aren’t Marrying

Always a bridesmaid, never a bride. Or a groom. Or, okay, even a bridesmaid. Why are we waiting to tie the knot?

My best friend and I are both 24 years old, career-driven, and single. We’re also both women who are set on marrying someone who shares our respective faiths — she’s Muslim, I’m Christian. We joke about our singleness a lot — every embarrassing picture, ridiculous dance move and dumb comment is attended by the sarcastic-but-obligatory, “Why am I still single?”

But to my friends who are “nones,” being in your mid-twenties and unmarried is normal, even preferred. Many are closing in on 30 and still in no rush to marry.

They appear to be in good company.

According to the Pew Research Center, only 26 percent of Millennials, those born roughly between 1981 and 1996, are married. This is a decrease from previous generations: by the time they were in the current Millennial age range (18-33), 36 percent of Generation Xers, 48 percent of Baby Boomers, and 65 percent of the Silent Generation were married.

Millennials’ median marriage age is also the highest of any group in modern history — 29 for men and 27 for women. Though most unmarried Millennials (69 percent) say they’d like to marry, they’re not in a hurry.

Yet, if you belong to a religious tradition, it’s easy to feel like you missed the boat by not finding your spouse in college. Religious people just tend to marry earlier. Many a joke has been made about the “ring by spring or your money back” refrain sung by Bible colleges (aka, “bridal colleges”). Still, it seems that an increasing number of faithful Millennials are putting off marriage into their late twenties and beyond.

So, why are religious Millennials waiting to tie the knot? My own Christian perspective frames the following list of five reasons, but I ran it by my best friend, who agreed she’s seen similar situations play out within the Muslim context.

1. We’re driven by our careers.

In the past, women of faith were guided to the ready-made “callings” of marriage and motherhood, but they’re now as free as their secular counterparts to pursue careers and post-graduate education. Not only that, but religious Millennials view their professions as honoring God.

Katelyn Beaty in Christianity Today had this to say: “Jesus and Paul, we know, spoke highly of the gift of singleness, as a chance to devote greater and undistracted attention to their ministry. As more Christian women are both working full-time, and staying single for longer periods than expected, or for life, they will need a positive theology of work.”

Of course, it’s not just women who can honor God in their profession. Men and women alike are choosing to make careers, not marriage, a priority. Marriage, according to the Knot Yet report, is viewed as something Millennials want to do after they’ve sorted out the other aspects of life — it’s “a ‘capstone’ rather than a ‘cornerstone.’”

2. True love isn’t waiting.

The majority (77 percent) of evangelical Millennials agree that sex outside of marriage is morally wrong. But that hasn’t stopped most of them from doing it. In fact, 80 percent of unmarried Millennials who self-identify as evangelicals have had sex, according to a study from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

Of that 80 percent, 64 percent reported having sex in the last year, and 42 percent say they are currently in a sexual relationship. So, why aren’t evangelical Millennials putting their beliefs into practice?

An article in Relevant magazine, a Christian publication aimed at twenty- and thirty-somethings, points out that people married earlier in biblical times, meaning the waiting period between puberty and marriage was much shorter. Now, “as the average marrying age creeps closer to 30, the time period when Christians are called to be chaste can easily extend a decade beyond their high school graduation — or much longer.”

Even using a stricter definition of “evangelical,” a study by the National Association of Evangelicals found that 44 percent of evangelical Millennials had premarital sex. One Gospel Coalition blog said sex outside of marriage is the Millennial generation’s acceptable sin.

With premarital sex on the table for a hefty percentage of religious Millennials, the pull of marriage seems a little bit weaker. It’s a less one-sided version of the old adage: “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”

3. Men are acting like boys.

I hesitate to include this, mainly because I don’t mean to bash the men out there, but I came across too many people who affirmed this notion. Kevin DeYoung, author of Just Do Something, says that a number of commentators, Christians included, have noticed a trend in Millennial men — they aren’t growing up. The common question he hears from young Christian women around the country: “Where have all the marriageable men gone?”

DeYoung contends: “The Christian men that are ‘good guys’ could use a little — what’s the word I’m looking for — ambition.” I heard a similar response when I asked a few unmarried Christian guys in their early twenties why marriage is being delayed. They said guys now tend to be less forward about their intentions, made easier by the ability to hide behind indirect forms of communication (think text messages, email, Facebook).

To be sure, the blame could also be placed on ladies who might be equally immature or have unrealistic expectations of their future spouse. We’re all guilty of having a list of requirements: 6-foot, handsome, faithful Christian with a social life . . . . Maybe we’re expecting too much and have confused what it means not to “settle,” and so we stay single, waiting and hoping for our version of Mr. Right.

For a generation where its commonplace to play Madden for hours on end, live at home well into adulthood and not be able to maintain a savings account, marriage might take a backseat because growing up has, too.

4. We don’t know how to date.

Debra Fileta, a professional counselor, comes right out with it: “Christians are bad at dating.” I agree. When your faith puts an enormous emphasis on marriage to the extent that casual dates are frowned upon, dating comes with serious pressure. When you go out for coffee knowing that the person across the table is thinking the same thing you are — “Could I see myself marrying this person?” — it’s just too much for a first date.

And it’s a complete reversal of the wider culture, where casual hook-ups abound and elicit praise. When hooking up is not an option and your religious subculture sees dating as only a first step toward marriage, dating becomes a burden. It’s just easier to take a break.

5. Singleness is attractive.

Previous generations have shown Millennials that, a lot of the time, marriage doesn’t last. With divorce rates in excess of 50 percent (or, as sociologist Bradley Wright suggests, 60 percent for nominal Christians and 38 percent for regular church-attending Christians), it looks like marriage has but a fighting chance for survival. So why rush it?

And, in general, parents of Millennials aren’t putting as much pressure on their kids to marry. I’ve personally never heard any version of the phrase, “When are you going to get married? I want grandkids” from my mom. Neither has my best friend heard that from hers. More likely, her mom has been protecting her against unsolicited marriage offers.

By waiting longer to settle down into marriage, it’s also easier for Millennials to feel the freedom to move from one city to the next, one job to the next, or one church to the next. Singleness is often characterized as a time of liberty during which we can be selfish. The persistent marriage metaphor is “ball and chain.”  No surprise that Generation Me is wary of being tied down.

Image by Thomas Leuthard.

Corrie Mitchell
Written by

  • Earl J Griffin

    Marriage should be the capstone of singleness and I for one support waiting. It’s the sexual intimacy with multiple partners that’s the drawback. The risks of infectious diseases is too high for playing romper room with your body.

  • Brian Cox

    Excellent article.

  • fredx2

    Figure it out. The longer you wait, the quality of available men declines, because the good ones are taken. Just sayin’. Good luck with your career, but a career does not love you back

    • Danielle Hyde

      The quality of men does not decline. Maybe that was the way years and years ago when people were born, lived, married and worked their lives in one part of
      the world. But this old adage is prior to changes in travel, communications and the advent of globalization. But the truth now is more that in time men grow to be the men they truly are. I wouldn’t touch men prior to 24 if I could go back. What a useless waste of my time and energy, really and that isn’t to attack either side. They are not this mature pinnacle of marriage quality that such arguments make them out to be. This is unfair and damaging to both sides entering this union. Men have equal potential to their being as a woman does and both deserve the time they need to become the people they want to share. Trying to spin this into an emergency diminishes the deep respect and love a union of this kind deserves. It is no wonder divorce rates are what they are when this generation is met with this kind of dead ideology and treatment of their choices. Where is the faith? What are we truly talking about here?

      To the author, Corrie Mitchell, I thought this was well-written. I am always happy to see someone adding to the story of our tomorrow, not taking away from it. The fair, loyal, kind and strong will always be able to find love in their life.

  • fredx2

    Also, many are on the pill. If the pill tricks your body into thinking its pregnant, doesn’t it stand to reason that the desire to go out and get a man would decline?

    • James

      Interesting. The Pill is being prescribed far more often to young women for non-contraceptive reasons (cycle problems, acne, etc.) than it used to be. No matter the reason, the side-effects are the same—and these side effects can include a reduction in women’s desire and men’s interest in them. Furthermore, 3rd and 4th gen pills are “anti-androgenic”, which means they may have a greater impact than older pills.

      While on the subject of desire, internet porn is a big problem, especially for men. If men are getting their sexual release through porn, they have less of an interest in going out and getting a girl.

  • J_Bob

    Looking at the demographics of the US, who will take care of the millennials when they age, or support them in SS & medicare? Especially when so many children are born to unmarried mothers, & get the short end of the stick.

  • Touma

    There is also the little issue of money. With no good jobs, who can afford a ring? A wedding? If you are 20k in school loan debt, why would you want to marry someone else who is 20k in school loan debt, and have 40k in school loan debt?

    I believe finances are higher on the list than something subjective like “Men are acting like boys”.

    • FranklinWasRight

      You are describing a wedding, not marriage. Getting married is next to free, having a lavish wedding isn’t necessary.

      The problem is materialism, which is anti-Christian. People seem to think if you can’t afford all the trappings you should just co-habitate. Material concerns have trumped spiritual concerns.

      • rickclimbs

        For a lot of Christian women, the ring and all the rest of the expensive jazz is not optional. They still expect to be taken care of financially. Well, when the economy is such that it takes a man till his late 20s (or even into his 30s) to get to the point where he can afford to support a family, women aren’t going to be getting many rings in their 20s.

    • LakersTrent

      2 people facing 40k of debt together have an equal or better chance of success than facing 20k each separately. From rent to entertainment to transport, it’s more economical to live in a pair than singly. The only extra cost of being married is the wedding itself (which need not be lavish, and which is often paid for by parents anyway and therefore not an excuse), and the potential cost of children (which is easily avoided with abundant birth control, if desired).

      The reason millennials don’t get married as much is simply that we think more of ourselves and less of our future families, and have fewer social skills because we spend time consuming and creating media rather than building real relationships.

  • Brad Winsted

    BYW Good article, there are so many reasons for delaying. I think the most relevant is: the millennials look at their parents, who are struggling with marriage and divorce, or their older siblings who are struggling with marriage and divorce and opt out or wait for Mr/Ms perfect who never shows up.

  • MontyBurnz

    So millenial women are choosing a decade and change of living it up and sex outside of marriage and then complaining that they aren’t finding the right guys?

    • Ashley Johnson

      Who says they’re complaining? Maybe they prefer being single?

  • Cris Kramschuster

    Very good article Corrie – particularly point 4

  • AugustineThomas

    I love how American women pretend that they’re such wonderful potential spouses, plagued by horrible men. It’s so small minded and it betrays a lot about why they’re unhappy and single.

  • itypethereforeiam

    If the milk was not free, more men would buy cows. Everything else in this article is secondary to that truth.

  • wally

    Fooq your career down with femi-journo-shmournos, I would NEVER marry a bossy pants-wearing fat ugly American woman.
    Byeeeeee!

  • jr

    I married as a virgin To a virgin. As I was busy with medical school AND a part time job, I met her by asking my parents to find me a wife. She was 18 and I 22 when we got married after 5 months of courtship. 30 years, 4 kids later we are as much in love as ever. My oldest daughter asked me to find her a husband. 2 days after asking she met Caleb, married 21 days after, and now I have 2 grand daughters.
    We buy cows and bulls here, and love follows like the caboose on the train.

  • cromwell

    Here is a possibility you have not considered. Our Liberated country and courts utilize marriage as a mechanism to strip men of their Capital while providing no incentive for a women to stick around.
    Men are not stupid forever, marriage is now just a legal rip off. Of course the feminist claim is men are acting as ” Boys” . Ah..no. Men are acting as thinking beings who understand the game is fixed and choose not to play.

  • markbuehner

    Could be men aren’t being childish- theyre being pragmatic. Not a lot of good reasons to marry these days. LOTS of good reasons not to, particularly for men.

  • M.O.T.L.

    I’m so not a millennial, but I think that men have been fed a line for the past 50 years or so, and it is that the modern woman does not need a man. We are continually told that men are mindless, childish jerks who truly ought to be eliminated for the sake of the human race. Today’s women have each other for sex – perversion is beautiful – men no longer necessary. To a man, that’s so disheartening. Like being Sir Galahad and the princess doesn’t need or want him – now he has his horse and his armor and his sword – and nothing to use them for. She tells him to take a hike. I’m so glad I’m old. I think I just don’t care anymore.

  • yaelra

    I’ve been a Christian here in NY for over 30 years. In that time the only Christian men I had met were completely unmarriageable. They were either besotted with addictions to pornography, smoking, drugs or drinking.Others I met were either unwilling to leave their mommies or be the head leader and provider for the family.Most wanted to spend their time on the couch watching sports. Since scripture bans women from marrying these types of men, thousands of Christian women like myself had no choice but to wait on God. I am not saying there are no good men in NY, but they are almost always unsaved unbelievers. So many friends I know decided to take a chance and marry an unbeliever hoping they’ll get saved. I am not comfortable gambling like that and disobeying scripture. Yes I cry my eyes out wondering how to meet a normal believer in NY. All I can do is submit to God, believing He works all things together for good.

  • Map Forward

    What’s interesting about the comments below is that the author actually never said she wanted to get married and wasn’t finding someone. She was just explaining why she and a friend weren’t that focused on getting married yet. I have read that the divorce rate is double for those who marry under 25 and that seems to me to be an excellent reason to wait if you have any doubts. And if everyone is waiting, there will still be plenty of men available. M

  • Dan

    All my reading would suggest that millennials are a generation of do it right or don’t do it all’s. I would suggest that the last point “singleness is attractive” is a little off but also the most important. We are the most relational generation that has ever existed, albeit dysfunctional due to our ability to have friends we never interact with. We are not as me centred as some of the past generations, but we won’t walk into something if we don’t think we can be successful, and with the divorce rates skyrocketing and our parents (who are our roll models) failing miserably at being married we have little to no hope.

    This leads us to a place of wait until you have the qualifications mind sets, then couple that with all the pessimism about our financial situations and you have a recipe for I will wait to date.

  • Matthew Abate

    Point #3 speaks to the core issue plaguing the Millennials and the GenXers, my generation. Fatherlessness has wreaked havoc in ways that we’re now starting to see in men. I believe the lack of ambition, the aimlessness, the sheer inability to persevere to the end that I displayed and see in my peers and in the Millennials stems in part from not having a solid father in the home. It is the Father who possesses the power to call out his child into seemingly difficult circumstances for the child’s good. Our Lord exemplifies this for us throughout the pages of scripture. I love my mom and the hard work she poured into my two brothers and me; however, she could not make up for our father’s unwillingness to engage or impart a solid, guiding presence in the home. In all of this, God used it for his purposes and plans in restoring me to a point where I could enter into a wonderful marriage with a Godly woman primarily because I needed to work through my stuff. Our churches need to be places of healing and restoration for men and women alike who come from fractured and fatherless upbringings.