Acton Institute Powerblog

Marriage in the City

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In this week’s commentary, Jennifer Roback Morse takes a look at the socio-economic factors that influence the age at which young people aim to get married. Many are waiting. One reason why so many young people put off marriage unitl their late 20s or early 30s, says Morse, is that the cost of setting up an independant household is too high — unjustifiably high. Physically, humans are ready to reproduce in the mid-teens; financially, young people are not ready to be independent until their late 20s; the cost of housing and debt are often obstacles. During this waiting period — a time of sexual-economic tension — young people pick up many habits and expectations that are not compatible with maintaining a healthly marriage.

So, what can be done? Read Morse’s commentary to hear one approach to the problem.

On a related note – Zenit interviews Maggie Gallagher about the importance of a healthy marriage in the lives of children. In a nut-shell:

  • Marriage reduces the risk of poverty.
  • Fatherless households increase the risk of involvement in crime.
  • Marriage protects childrens’ physical and mental health.

Jonathan Spalink


  • Clare Krishan

    I think you hit the nail on the head – bravo!
    My experience of living in Germany a decade ago, was there is only a single lifetime chance to earn income tax relief on mortgage payments (each spouse can apply their eligibility in series spanning the years raising kids) makes sense to me – there’s more multigenerational construction (mom’n’pop and even grandmom’n’pop live in ‘etage’ condominiums together) where banks lend credit to a whole family. Also, as a fan of Korean Soap Operas that broadcast in Philadelphia, it seems the custom there is for middle class parents to purchase and furnish a modest first home for their newly-married kids. In Singapore, young people can borrow from their social security account to buy a home, go to graduate school, whatever. In rural PA prefabricated homes sell for as little as $25,000 but there’s very few plots of land for sale, while in the city there’s plenty of abandoned plots in dire need of renovation but the minimum build would cost over $120,000 thanks to L&I codes etc. (Our local plumbers union just shamed themselves into agreeing to installing – contra their contract – environmentally-friendly (and consumer pocket book preserving !) waterless urinals in the new ComCast headquarters here see

  • adumah ekene

    i’m very much excited by the presentation and citation of the presenter of this article . i also want to inform that all she pointed out ,about issues that can delay marriages by youth inrepect of her american styled observation is same with what we have here in nigeria. i really thnx her very much ,cheers.

  • Brenden Lochhead

    A very interesting commentary, and for the most part I think this is a fair commentary on what is becoming a contemporary trend.

    However, the article is quite binary–there is a dicotomy: biology vs. economy. We are animals, yes–hence the biological. We are politcal animals, aswell–hence the economy. However are we not rational animals? Between the time one is biologically prepared and the time when one is economically ready I would interjet that perhaps the greatest consideration to take into account is whether or not one is rationally ready, that is to say, if one’s character, mind, and maturity level are well formed enough and informed on the matter (and indeed there is a great need for self-knowledge when coming into a union like marriage). Modernity has no shortage of examples of so-called prepared couples (economically&biologically) who have failed miserably and become disillusioned with marriage. Therefore, perhaps we need to stop eqauting child bearing as essentially a fiscal matter and more or less treat its essential property; a rational loving act of creation.

  • Jude Chua Soo Meng

    Hey this is an interesting commentary. Recently I saw on discovery channel they were able (in one the Scandinavian countries, or was it in Ireland) to order ready made apartments. The men came in with these container apartments and had it up in no time, and apparently they cost much less.

    Although I am a little troubled by the suggestion that we should try our best to help those who cannot control their sexual impulses marry. If these people cannot control their sexual impulses helping them marry may not be beneficial, unless their sexual intentionality is subject specific–at their wives. Sometimes those who cannot control their sexual impulses have impulses which do not discriminate. These people may end up commiting adultary or whatelse. I know St Paul said that it is better to marry than to burn, and St Bonaventure called marriage a way out of the failure to control one’s urges. I’m not sure about St Thomas (and someone might correct me here), but it seems that he thought marriage was really to instantiate a unique friendship and procreate (promote life). Someone who has a mad sexual rage but uses marriage to appease it–maybe that still remains disordered: its end is not either goods, but the mere experience of pleasure. But maybe someone may take me up on this.

    In any case, for those who marry with the right intention, making houses cheaper sure helps.

  • C.S.

    I am not very much of a writer. I am simply sending my appreciation to your article.

    I am hoping that I can see more articles like this- very practical. I will be very happy if I can see more of down-to-earth ideas what we should be looking for legislatures helping to create more stable society. Please give us more ideas which types of legislations we should be looking for.

    It may appear to some that personal rational control is what all needed. I am sure that it will be the most basic requirement. But we should not forget how welfare system created alarming numers of unwed mothers and fatherless children.

    We are loosing our most precious support system – the unit of "family" these days by many reasosns. It is natural that people seek their love and comfort elsewhere. Especially, it must be difficult for young people who has to deal with so much hormonal rage. We all went through such period in some degree, didn’t we? Most of us overcame with the moral support of family, church and community. Today they have more pressure to take up instant, short sighted unions which will confuse them later in life. Such action is even "encouraged" by Hollywood and media. It doesn’t seem helping young people to learn restraint for the long term happiness.
    We need to offer many different ways to support, help and encourage young people to have a better, long term plan for life.

  • Dr William Gissy

    I once published a paper dealing with vacancy rates for rental housing. The curious observation (real economists look at real data) was the strong degree of correlation between population density and the vacancy rate in urban areas that did not have any form of rent control. Also the higher population density had a greater impact on rents than on housing prices….

    then looking at rent controlled versus non rent controlled urban areas it is noted that , the rent controlled areas had lower vacancy rates even though they did not have less rental housing per capita…

    all of these observations are consistent with a degree of non-competition in urban areas with high population density…

    the degess of non-competion, hence market power for the landlord could be due to the lack of available land…

    but no…we have just been told that landlords don’t need more land, they just have to build more floors on existing buildings…if they don’t it must be "da guberments fault"

    I ran that notion by some friends in the building industry and they laughed. They chided me because I should know better…I told them I just wanted to confirm my view with professionals…so here is why building up is another fanciful nostrum toswsed out by Free Market Utopians

    it is a matter of weight distribution…unless the building was designed to hold more stories the foundation and framing on the lower floors are not capable of supporting the additional wieght..

    while this could be corrected it is quite costly

    in the real world markets are sometimes confronted by nasty things like logistical constraints not to mention asymetric information, agency conflicts, uncertainty, third party effects…

    the world isn’t as simple and the market process isn’t as neat and tidy as one might gather from reading Austrain sophistry.

  • Todd Farris

    A great article. I am currently 35 and have been married 13 years. We have 3 children. I teach seniors in high school and it is very evident the culture these kids are growing up in completely discourages early marriage. Most teens are told through media, education, and their parents that early marriage is ridiculous. My students cannot believe I dated my wife for 4 years, was engaged for 1 year, and married at 22. They are equally amazed that we go t married first and then lived together. They are shell-shocked when they find out our first child arrived when I was 23 and my wife 22. The younger generation (starting with my own) consistently hears "Get your life on track, get your education, have fun, enjoy life, then get married." Women are told you can have it all; a happy mariage, a prospering career, and also be a great Mom. What they are not told is that it is very difficult to have all at once. After all, a women’s resources are limited and yet the wants associated are unlimited. The basic economic problem that society fails to grasp for the fairer sex. Early marriage for women today is especially viewed as negative and reserved only for the unenlightened. We, as individuals, have chosen this course of action for our society and it is interesting that God is telling us otherwise with the biological information provided in the article. Are we listening?

    I can’t help to think the baby boomer generation is a major factor in the facts mentioned. 75 million people living longer which allows them to work longer. And based on the U.S. savings rate most boomers are waking up to the reality of a decreased life style at retirement due to their lack of savings. Cat food anyone? This reality will keep boomers in the job market well into the traditional retirement years. Does this affect the job market and ladder climbing of the sub 40 crowd. How could it not? This inevitably means the younger generation of workers must wait patiently for advancement and the higher wages that accompany better positions which are filled by a more experienced older generation. We can only hope for a strong entrepreneurial spirit in our younger generations to create broader wealth in the hopes of counteracting the demographic anamoly facing us. Is it not a possibility that the marriage environment we are faced with today is as a result of the strains of a massive generation?