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Why are we waiting longer and longer to get married?

With all the pressure on the younger generation, is it any wonder that so many postpone the ‘big day’?

Tony Moore

SOME VERY INTERESTING figures have been released from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) in the last few days. They show that more and more young people are delaying getting married until their mid 30s.

This won’t come as a shock to relationship counsellors, as we often see changes in attitudes and behaviour earlier than others. But why is this happening? Policymakers and the like will need to know if this is just a blip or a long term trend. I believe it’s a situation that’s here to stay and I’ll explain why I have come to this conclusion.

Marriage breakdown 

First of all, the rate of breakdown of marriages in Ireland is high and it’s growing. At the time of writing it is approximately 50%. Young people are – quite rightly – stopping to think whether this gamble of marriage is worth it when they look at the odds of it all working out (whatever that means).

But with societal and family pressure and, perhaps, a desire themselves to have a committed relationship, many do marry. But even with this desire to marry, many are delaying marriage until their early or late thirties. The three major reasons are education, employment and money. Let’s look at these in more detail.


Third level education attendance has exploded in the last 15 years. The reason for this is both social and economic. There are more people looking for work than there are jobs on the ground, so employers can pick and choose.

Interviewers try to make an objective judgement when choosing the right candidate and they look at academic achievement to help make their decision. The base line now for many jobs is an honours degree – this can take four years. So, after leaving school many of our younger generation sign up to do their degree. This will bring them to aged 22 or 23.

Then many of them discover that the goal posts have moved and their desired job now requires a master’s degree! So now they must study for another one or two years. They’re now 25 and exhausted so they may well take a well-deserved break for a year and go travelling and see a bit of the world.


After a year or so they’re ready to jump into the jobs market. Imagine that they have been exceptionally lucky and have gotten in on the ground floor with a multinational company. Money is OK but not brilliant and they are working ‘mad’ hours to impress their bosses.

They are, of course, meeting people and having relationships but want to earn some money to pay back the student loans and their parents. So they stay in the job two years to get experience and are told not to stay too long as HR people like to see a good range of experience on the CV. So they change jobs and start again on a better salary. They’re now around 30, and they have not even been able to save money or got a safe and secure place to live. They’ve also been told they must ‘up skill’, which means more money and time.

Our younger generation are chasing the carrot which always seems to be out of their reach. This is just one scenario but it is a fairly common one.


If our young people do manage to get some job and financial security they will be in their early 30s before this happens. Of course, lots of their friends will be tying the knot and they may feel they want to do the same for whatever reason. But they have to find someone and pretty damn quick.

They will then find someone who seems to fit the bill and the engagement period begins. There then follows about eighteen months of engagement before the marriage. Suddenly they are now about 35 or 36. If – and it is a big if – they are in good jobs they may then save not for their house but for the wedding day. At that point, they feel they can afford it because they feel secure in their jobs and they are in an optimistic and positive phase of their lives. They are encouraged by friends and family.

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Young today must spend so much time establishing themselves 

Many people feel they have a great deal of ‘life experience’. But let us look back a little. They have been in education for a total of about 20 years. That education, mostly, has been paid for by their parents and the State. They have had to find accommodation and live ‘hand to mouth’ for a long period of time. Some have been lucky to find part-time work to supplement what money they are given.

What worries me is that after spending all this time establishing themselves they may then truncate the ‘partner process’ and then get married. I do realise and understand that many people want to establish their own home and family, but I  think we all need to rethink the whole thing.

On the one hand the continuing education and training business is, in my opinion, getting out of hand with so many young (and older) people being almost continuously on a course costing hundreds or thousands to try and improve their prospects.

On the other hand we have the wedding industry (and others) putting pressure on young people to get married and become parents. We then have the parenting experts industry telling the new parents they need to buy this book or that and attend a course (more time and money) to learn how to be good parents! Add to this the couples’ own aged parents and their needs and you see how much pressure is around and how relationships crumble under such pressure.

When we sit back and reflect on all this pressure, and I have only taken a couple of examples, is it any wonder that so many people postpone the ‘big day’ – if not for a year or two but indefinitely?

Tony Moore is a counsellor for Relationships Ireland. Relationships Ireland is a not-for-profit organisation that offers confidential relationship counselling services based on ability to pay. For more information or to book a consultation you can contact 1890 380 380, email info@relationshipsireland.com or visit www.relationshipsireland.com.

About the author:

Tony Moore

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