My Alternative Lifestyle as a Married Millennial
According to NBC News, I live an “alternative lifestyle.” Or at least, that is how one of their writers described Olympic snowboarder Dave Wise, a married 23-year-old with a toddler who cheered him on in Sochi. Dave and I have much in common, except I prefer skiing and my skills are far from Olympic-level. Neither of us wants to wistfully prolong adolescence or be wait-listed for adulthood.
My wife and I married in 2013, joining the 9% of American 18-24 year olds who tie the knot. We also chose to start our family early: the mundane joys of this season in life include perusing tiny winter clothing and evaluating stroller accessories for our ten-month-old son. Caring for two dependents means I have to work harder and smarter to pay Cambridge rent and meet tuition bills. But marriage also means I have a live-in teammate who stands beside me, no matter what challenges we face.
Not everyone understands our choices. During birth classes in Manhattan last year, prior to our son’s arrival, middle-aged couples would shoot sidelong glances and question us about why we decided to start a family so young. After all, college-educated couples statistically wait until after age 30 to have children, and the average age for first-time moms in New York City is 26. The City’s average age of first marriage is even older: 30 for women and 34 for men. But we view marriage as a cornerstone institution that molds and shapes us, not as a capstone achievement to be added once we have everything else figured out.
According to the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, 90% of young adults believe marriage should be deferred until after they finish their education. More than 50% believe that marriage should only happen after their career is underway. The trend toward delayed marriage and family coincides with the phenomenon of prolonged adolescence — a sort of developmental limbo between childhood and adulthood. Male millennials are choosing to live at home and pursue advanced degrees rather than marry and establish their own families. This means female millennials who want to have families cannot find suitably mature husbands before declining fertility sets in as a biological reality, as Kay Hymowitz argues in Manning Up.
Choosing to marry early gives me a different perspective than many of my peers. At one collegiate debate tournament, I was charged with defending the strong social norms in favor of monogamy. The opposition argued that monogamy leads to less sex, and sex makes people happy, so monogamy is bad. Is that the end of the story? Eight minute speeches cannot encapsulate what trust and strong families really mean to individuals and society. I talked about the importance of family as a fundamental building block of society, and the benefits to children when their biological parents are present in their lives. In a room with all the diversity relished by international debate tournaments, I was perhaps the only one (including the judges) with the life experiences that gave insight into why monogamy, marriage, and social well-being are interrelated.
If I could tell my generation one thing about marriage, it would be that marriage is not just a platform for self-realization or romantic love. It is a lifelong commitment to the good of another. It’s also your project for the world: your greatest possible contribution to the future is likely your family, not your occupation. That’s why every person — married or single — has a stake in building a strong marriage culture.
Not so long ago, twenty-something marriage and family was the norm. Now it’s out of style and deserving of a comeback. During one law school visit weekend I attended last year, many students brought their parents. I brought my wife and baby. Although the admissions counselors were at first apprehensive about having a baby there, they quickly warmed up to his charm. When we left that evening, one admissions counselor was so impressed she exclaimed, “Wow! You guys live an almost normal life!” She’s right. But if you asked me, I’d tell you it’s even better than normal.
Josh Craddock is the Vice President of Personhood USA and a student at Harvard Law School.