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Early to wed may make marriage happy, survey says

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Americans are waiting longer to get married, but they shouldn't wait too long: The odds for a happy marriage may favor those who tie the knot between the ages of 23 and 27, says a survey to be released today.

The average age at first marriage in the USA has been inching upward; it's now 26 for women and 27 for men.

The survey asked a variety of questions about marriage and divorce, including attitudes toward cohabitation and raising children. Eighty-eight percent of respondents said marriage should be a lifelong commitment.

The survey was designed and analyzed by University of Texas sociology professor Norval Glenn for the National Fatherhood Initiative, which advocates marriage and family values.

To determine marital satisfaction and success, Glenn says, the answers to a series of questions were calculated according to a statistical index, including adjustments for the length of marriages as well as the age at first marriage.

Findings shouldn't create panic among those approaching 30, he says. "Those marriages turned out better but maybe not because of the age," he says. "Some people may be just too picky or too choosy or not extremely desirable."

Other researchers worry that the findings, based on a 15-minute national telephone survey of 1,503 men and women ages 18 and older in late 2003 and early 2004, may alarm those unattached and marriage-minded.

"The last thing you want is to have them take this as a rule," says Stephanie Coontz, a professor of history and family studies at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. "If you're in a good relationship and if you want to marry, there's no reason to postpone it."

Andrew Cherlin, a professor of sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, says marrying too young or too old carries a greater risk of divorce. But now, "as people wait longer and longer to marry, the definition of what's too old keeps changing."

"In the 1950s, 28 was really old to get married. Now it's not so old, which means there are more unmarried people for a 28-year-old to choose from," he says.

Frank Furstenberg, a sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, says the times are so different that past assumptions should be rejected. "The dregs in 1960 may have been people marrying in their late 20s and early 30s," he says. "That isn't true today."

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© Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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