TERRE HAUTE —
Americans are waiting longer to wed, but for some couples, Valentine’s Day is the time to demonstrate the value of marriage.
Cindy Tingley was still in awe Wednesday afternoon, standing in front of the giant heart erected in her yard on South 22nd Street.
“That’s a valentine I will never forget,” she said of the hand-crafted, 64-square-foot display, emblazoned with a devotion from husband, Steve.
“He did a good job surprising me.”
The couple, who own Uncle Al’s Pecans on Poplar Street, will celebrate their 24th anniversary in August. Now 45 years old, Cindy said she’s still impressed with her partner in both life and business. Steve said he turns 44 next month, and recalled how, at ages 21 and 22, most thought they were too young to wed.
“We knew each other two weeks,” he laughed on the eve of Valentine’s Day, adding many people felt they were making a big mistake.
According to a 2010 PEW Research and Time Magazine study, 39 percent of Americans felt the institute of marriage was becoming obsolete, compared with 28 percent in 1979. However, the same data suggest that at least 90 percent of Americans continue marching down the aisle.
Data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau demonstrates that the age of first marriages has changed dramatically since the 19th century. That data shows the median ages for men marrying in 1930 was 25, dropping to 22 by 1960, trekking up to 28 by 2010. Women’s ages follow a similar pattern, beginning at 21 in 1930, dropping to 20 in 1960, and climbing up to 26 in 2010. Multiple polling techniques that utilized data crossing ethnic and socioeconomic lines show the same phenomenon, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Other changes in demographics include those between ethnic groups, with the median age of first marriage for white men at 27 in 1890, and 25 for blacks. By 2010, that positioning had switched, with the median age for white men at 28 and blacks at 31. The same dynamic occurred with women, according to the data. In 2010 the median age for first marriage of a white woman was 26.4, with black women at 30.
Scott Hall, professor of family studies at Ball State University, said research about changing marriage trends is still in its infancy, but interest is growing, including the impact played by social media.
“In family studies, we’re certainly interested in trends, family outcomes, what’s healthy and what’s going this way,” he said in a telephone interview with the Tribune-Star.
The subject is a discussion point among his students, and he said the consensus seems to be that the online activity is simply replacing video dating and singles ads of other generations. Those issues don’t appear to be major factors though, he said.
“The Internet stuff will only take people so far,” he said.
Social factors involved include economics, especially the cost of designer weddings and living independently. Women today are much more financially independent and better educated than their predecessors, he said, noting there’s less urgency felt to wed quickly.
“People generally want to have a nice wedding and they want to be financially secure before they get married,” he said, adding marriage remains a high ideal, but people are placing more importance on romance and timing now. “And I can’t help but think of all the cable shows that are out there on that.”
Based on discussions with young people today, he said they’re more interested in fulfillment and happiness with a potential partner than whether that individual will be a good parent or financially stable.
Mark Grayless, senior minister at Terre Haute’s Union Christian Church, said his parents will soon celebrate their 73rd anniversary, and he and his wife their 35th.
“I believe that families can survive,” he said, reflecting on his own experiences as both a counselor and advocate of marriage.
The ebbing age of marriage might well be related to the higher rate of divorce experienced in recent decades, he pointed out. If 2/3 of today’s youth grew up with divorced parents, their expectations of family dynamics are certain to be reflected across society, he said.
“And we live in a society which is more noncommittal,” he said, remarking at how rare it is becoming for people to remain with one employer throughout their careers.
Grayless said statistically, divorce is most likely to occur between the fifth and eighth year of a marriage, but if people make it through that, they report loving each other more than in the initial years.
“There’s nothing wrong with asking for help,” he said, adding years spent raising children can be particularly stressful.
For the Tingley family, those are beginning all over again. The couple’s daughter turns 20 years old Feb. 25, while their son turns 3 Feb. 24.
“Seventeen years and five hours,” Steve laughed, explaining the difference in age.
But as Cindy relished her Valentine’s Day gift displayed on the front lawn, she expressed gratitude for the relationship.
“He’s still the most amazing man I’ve ever known,” she said.
Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.