Author tells women to marry early lest they lose “market value”

This is rich. Mark Regnerus at The Washington Post argues that people shouldn’t wait long to get married. And by people, he means women.

Marriage will be there for men when they’re ready. And most do get there. Eventually. But according to social psychologists Roy Baumeister and Kathleen Vohs, women’s “market value” declines steadily as they age, while men’s tends to rise in step with their growing resources (that is, money and maturation). Countless studies — and endless anecdotes — reinforce their conclusion. Meanwhile, women’s fertility is more or less fixed, yet they largely suppress it during their 20s — their most fertile years — only to have to beg, pray, borrow and pay to reclaim it in their 30s and 40s.

Countless studies? Endless anecdotes? Well color me convinced. *Eye roll*
I guess telling women that they better stop with all that work nonsense and get to the baby-making never gets old for some people.
Regnerus, author of Forbidden Fruit: Sex and Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers, is also miffed that the age difference between couples is closing:

The age gap between spouses is narrowing: Marrying men and women were separated by an average of more than four years in 1890 and about 2.5 years in 1960. Now that figure stands at less than two years.
…Most young women are mature enough to handle marriage. According to data from the government’s National Survey of Family Growth, women who marry at 18 have a better shot at making a marriage work than men who marry at 21. There is wisdom in having an age gap between spouses. For women, age is (unfortunately) a debit, decreasing fertility. For men, age can be a credit, increasing their access to resources and improving their maturity, thus making them more attractive to women.

I have to say, outside of how problematic the anecdotes and sweeping generalizations are, this article simply skeeves me out.

Join the Conversation

  • Trixen

    Not to mention this article assumes (wrongly) that men will only marry women and women will only marry men. It also assumes that everyone WANTS to get married.
    Either way, it’s gross.

  • Jessica

    Yup – and that all women want TEH BABIES!

  • Laurenholt

    “…Most young women are mature enough to handle marriage. According to data from the government’s National Survey of Family Growth, women who marry at 18 have a better shot at making a marriage work than men who marry at 21. There is wisdom in having an age gap between spouses. For women, age is (unfortunately) a debit, decreasing fertility. For men, age can be a credit, increasing their access to resources and improving their maturity, thus making them more attractive to women.”
    Did he even bother to present any scientifically-based evidence to back that up? Of course young women are more likely to be “mature enough” for marriage: women are typically conditioned from a young age to be ready for marriage sooner. Aren’t young girls, not boys, the ones who are presented with toys and ideas that focus on marriage?

  • Ire

    If the market value of men increases as they age, and the market value of women decreases as they age, and yet the age gap is narrowing…
    It seems like sound logic to draw the conclusion that the relevance of this study is also narrowing.

  • thegecko

    Exactly! Neither I nor my husband have any interest in becoming parents, now or in the future. We married fairly young yes, but it had nothing whatsoever to do with my fertility or his access to resources (He’s younger than me, and I’m more educated and currently bringing home a bigger paycheck). This article is insulting to both women and men-more of that “sex is a commodity to be traded” business. I wonder sometimes what sort of crappy relationships the people who write this stuff must have.

  • Trixen

    Another something I noticed — they associate men getting older with more credibility, more money, greater maturity, but oh those women — their ovaries stop working and they get so ugly and old!

  • thegecko

    Marriage, housekeeping, childrearing….yeah, pretty much. Meanwhile the boys get trucks, guns, and legos.

  • thegecko

    Because of course, women don’t ever gain experience and wisdom as we age. We just become barren and ugly. Oh, yeah…no woman has ever valued or been valued for her independence, her brain, or her skills-just her body and what she can do with it.

  • jjgirl23

    OH NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I’d better hurry up and get married. I’m already 18, which is like 2 steps from the grave. I can feel my eggs shriveling up and dying inside of me!

  • dormouse

    The true message of those articles:
    Men are valuable economically.
    Women are valuable for making babies.
    Where have these people been for the last fifty years or so?

  • Human Bean

    Funny thing about ‘market values’–they’re only relevant if someone is buying or selling something. I don’t give a fuck what my supposed value is on some imaginary marketplace–I’m not for sale.

  • Ire

    Hope for marriage is directly proportional to the number ova!


    Oh noes! Salma Hayek, who is 41, just got married yesterday. someone should tell the Latina beauty that her ripe marrying age is already over!

  • The Law Fairy

    Great point. How, exactly, are they determining “market value”?? If women as a commodity (trying to suppress vomit) are so devalued as we age, then why do the men keep, erm, “buying” us older and older? Uh, doesn’t that kind of indicate that, ACCORDING TO THE RELEVANT MARKET (men, in his view), our market value as we age is doing just fine? Otherwise, wouldn’t we see the age gap getting WIDER??
    That the age gap is DECREASING suggests, instead, that men and women’s “market value” as determined by the opposite sex (which, as others have noted, is a really stupid and heteronormative way of structuring the conversation to begin with) is getting closer to parallel than it was 40 years ago. Either both “lose” value as they age, or both “gain” it, or both have market value that stays about the same to the relevant “market” they’re putting themselves on. I mean, if you’re going to use stupid terms like “market value,” at least use them properly, dipshit! If men still “buy” women their age (and vice versa), then BY DEFINITION men are not, on average, looking for someone significantly younger than them.
    I mean, as a graph, it just doesn’t work. He’s trying to draw the demand curve one way but dammit it, the facts keep screwing up his graph! Well, thank goodness he has that good ole reliable anecdotal evidence to back him up so he doesn’t have to use a chart with actual facts!

  • thegecko

    You said it. They’re playing up the 1950’s model of marriage as a transaction in which men trade money and security for sex and women trade sex for money, security, and children to take care of them after the husband dies of a heart attack in his middle age.

  • jak

    One of the things that bugs me about this article is that he says that later marriage is a problem. But he never really explains why it’s a problem.
    well, he says that “Marriage actually works best as a formative institution”- so two people should grow up together. But what happens if one or both members of a couple isn’t “formed” enough to realize that it’s actually a bad match?
    and also “the economic benefits of pooling resources.” but there are plenty of economic negatives to pooling resources, as well. I know a couple who married fairly young (a year or so out of college). He wants to go to graduate school. She has been unable to find a well-paying job, and is currently pregnant. their “pooled resources” might be making it harder for him to get an advanced degree, and thus harder for them to “build wealth” as a couple.
    Of course, it seems like the writer’s real problem with delayed marriage is delayed baby-making. In which case, my friends are doing great, while the rest of us- developing careers, saving money, deciding whether or not we even want to get married and/or have kids- are total failures.

  • Lhynnan

    oh no thats not fair, I mean we had doctor barbie…. ;-)

  • thegecko

    Lol, I still would have traded her for the legos.


    if anything, I disagree with that man that two people should grow up together. What a joke. In my opinion, people should only get married AFTER they’re grown up and they truly know what they want in life.
    Better to get married and have a baby late than to marry young and regret having kids you wish you never had.

  • spike the cat

    Hmmm. Some doctor announces that viable cloned human babies are on the horizon and then this article comes out?
    Coincidence? I think not.
    In the time it takes for the 18 year old reader here to reach her late 30’s, there will no doubt be all kinds of new understanding of how to safely and ethnically (hopefully) extend reproductive years.
    Nope. I sniff a thinly veiled ulterior motive here…and the message may be directed at women, but we ain’t the target.

  • borrow_tunnel

    So if women decrease in value as they age, and men increase in value… if men intend on marrying a spouse for life, they should marry them older, so that their values are closer to being equal at the end of both of their lives, rather than close to equal at the start of their relationship. Draw it out on a chart, it makes sense.

  • Steph

    Or a race car

  • Nakedcat

    Hell to the yes. I am very skeeved out by his assertion that most women are “ready” to be married by age 18. Most 18 year-olds, female and male alike, are still very unclear on what they want from life in terms of family, career, etc. They don’t know what their sexual needs are or how to negotiate and communicate in a relationship. There is a huge potential for someone so young to get taken advantage of in marriage just because they don’t know what they want or what kind of respect and consideration is due to them yet–especially when there is a substantial age difference between the partners like he advocates for.

  • dream

    Although we waited to get married for financial reasons (a big wedding is expensive, and both our parents wanted one so badly), my wife and I have been together since the middle of high school. I am not sure about the article, but I do think growing up together and moving through the early stages of adulthood has solidified our relationship and love for each other.
    If we had married right out of high school, our lives wouldn’t be any worse. We’ve been essentially married since then, in our own minds.
    I do agree that it probably doesn’t work well for everyone, but, at least from our experience, there is a lot to gain from an early relationship.

  • Toni

    I remember my first day of college psychology. My professor said the Demi/Ashton marriage model was good because women reach their sexual peak around 40 and men reach theirs around 25. But these people don’t care about how good the sex is, it’s about whether or not it will make babies.

  • dream

    I am not so sure on the negatives of pooling resources. If one person is an addict or a gambler, I could see that as being a major problem. But, in terms of graduate school, I worked while my wife finished her last year of college, and instead of her being a very poor student, we had a reasonably comfortable life for that year. She’s supporting us through my medical school, and probably for a while afterward while she continues to out-earn me during my graduate medical education.
    Instead of each of us being poor students separately, we get to be comfortable throughout the whole time. Now, I would agree that we don’t need to be married for that, but having a serious, supportive relationship can do wonders economically too!

  • Tiffanie

    I seriously doubt women are more mature at 18 than men. I’m guessing they are just more conditioned to be the responsible party (because boys will be boys) and also conditioned to tie self worth into how well they take care of others (husbands, children, etc)

  • Tiffanie

    Or that you must have a state issued piece of paper to bring a child into the world.

  • thegecko

    To me, the biggest problem with young (18-21) folks getting married is that 1) People mature and different rates and some people grow up slower than others, and 2) A lot of 18-year-olds are still caught up in that fairy-tale ideal where they meet the right person and live happily ever after, no effort required. This doesn’t represent everyone, though, and it bothers me that there’s just as much stigma associated with getting married early in adulthood (i.e., you’re naive and stupid and sure to wind up divorced) as with getting married later in life (oh noes! You might never have babies!). You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, it seems.
    I think things would be much better for all of us if we could stop pressuring people to live their lives according to a certain schedule or script. Give our kids realistic views of love and marriage, let them marry IF and WHEN they are ready to do it, and let them figure out what’s best and healthiest for themselves.

  • Alessa

    Uh, so sorry, but what about any mention of the decreased fertility for MEN? That is just as relevant, if it’s such a freaking big deal. There is a ton of debate on the subject, but the majority of studies state that women have an extremely broad prime for fertility. 20s to 30s (and I suppose 17-19 if we’re going to be picky).
    This is so blatantly sexist without any legitimate evidence to back its claims it makes me want to scream.
    Annnd finally.. It’s almost blatantly stating that either A. Marriage is about having children and thus just the WOMAN’S fertility is key OR B. That a woman’s “market value” is linked completely to her youth and prime of beauty – and we all know that all women are just dying to get married so we had all hurry up quick so we catch Mr. Right before he goes for a younger, bouncier, just-out-of-high-school girl
    I can’t understand how people can be so incapable of understanding that women are people before they are women.

  • dream

    I agree that not all couples are ready at a young age. When we got married, we’d been dealing with the too-young-to-get-married stigma for about 4 years of our relationship (after we stayed together when starting college instead of breaking up like people seemed to expect after our first year in college). We considered getting married after our first year in college, but we didn’t have the money for the wedding we wanted – if we wanted a small wedding we would have.
    Perhaps I feel the need to defend others who might be in the same situation. Everyone telling you that you are too young to get married can be upsetting, even if you know they are wrong.

  • Alessa

    And I forgot to add.. I love how he assumes all people are just dying to bear children. That is, after all, a woman’s primary responsibility in life.

  • thegecko

    Yeah, I’m in the same boat. We had our wedding halfway through college. It’s not so bad now, now that it’s 5 years later and I’m graduating with my master’s, but I still get that shocked expression from people when they find out exactly how long we’ve been married. That, and the fact that we are mysteriously childless, seems to really throw people off down here in Tennessee.

  • Laurenholt

    Seriously. Why are all reproductive health studies (such as the effects of smoking and alcohol) focused on women’s fertility? It’s just another way to try to keep women classified as fetal-carriers. LAME.

  • x-creepy-doll-x

    Well, isn’t that stupid? If you’re going to choose a partner for ulterior motives such as age, then the woman should be 7 years older than the man to make up for the death differential, so she won’t be widowed and spend the last several years of her life alone, without the companionship to which she’s become accustomed.

  • stellarose

    So true. Actually, a saw a segment of the Today show recently that mentioned a recent study had shown that older men had a higher chance than younger men of having babies with certain disabilities. I have a feeling that if there was a political motivation to find more evidence of men’s decreasing fertility and increase in fetal abnormalities we’d find a lot more parity between the sexes.

  • dream

    I think there are tons of studies on male fertility, actually. They are just reported in the media much less often. If I remember accurately (always in question!), male’s have more fertile sperm until 45 or so (with younger generally being better), and there is a major decline after the 55 or so.
    There are studies though. Doctors care about this stuff a lot, so they can advise and help their patients. I guess the media doesn’t, though.
    I think men are generally fertile longer than women. But if you want to have kids, everyone reaches peak fertility in their 20s-30s.

  • B. Atoureta

    Well, now that I’m done spewing endless profanities, I’ll comment calmly:
    “But according to social psychologists Roy Baumeister and Kathleen Vohs, women’s “market value” declines steadily as they age, while men’s tends to rise in step with their growing resources (that is, money and maturation)”.
    Even if I were to accept this premise as true – and I don’t – the answer is, clearly, not for women to marry younger. The answer is for men need to grow up faster, and for women to be paid more – at least equally to men. Which they are not.
    Then we’ll see just how quickly women lose “market value”, and, frankly, just how many of them even marry anymore.

  • stellarose

    I find this article to be deeply, deeply offensive for all the reasons mentioned above.
    However, because of my career, I am always sensitive to the fact that some women who would othewise WANT to have children at a younger age are not given that as a viable option because of workplace/general societal discrimination against mothers. I had my son at 28 (not exactly a kid anymore) and its had a HUGE negative impact on my career (even though I still work 80+ hour weeks, make enough to afford help and have the greatest husband ever) and when I mention that I have a kid at meetings people look at me like I have two heads because I guess lady lawyers are not meant to have babies until we have gray hair. The assumption is you are bad at what you do because you are also a mom. But the guys my age at work — they are passing baby pictures around the table and have experienced no adverse career consequences.
    Just sharing another angle to this issue — those of us who have kids in the “acceptable range” are getting judged and penalized for it too. Its all about sexists double standards.

  • thegecko

    I caught an article on either MSNBC or Newsweek not too long ago highlighting some study where it was concluded that men’s sperm production, as well as the quality of said sperm, drops significantly after a certain age…somewhere around 50 I think. I wish I remembered where it was so I could link it. About 6 months or so ago, there was another study published that concluded that there may be an increased likelihood of being born with autism if one’s father was over 40 at the time of conception.

  • mizbinkley

    Dear Mr. Regnerus,
    Sometimes the babies come before the marriage. Sometimes, there’s no marriage at all.
    I’ll tell you how when you’re older.

  • Tara K.

    I totally had a gun. A BB gun. But I’m from Kentucky.

  • Ori

    What a ridiculous article. It is up to the couple to decide when and if to marry, not Regnerus, not sexist “market value”, and not this stupid biological clock myth. It is also up to the couple to decide when and if to have children. For the record, Mr. Regnerus, not all couples feel a biological imperative to crank out babies!
    Has Regnerus stopped to consider that some people might want to finish their educations, settle down in a career, build a nest egg, and live a little before marrying? Has he considered that times have changed and that women no longer see themselves as marriage commodities? Has he even considered that some people don’t want to marry?
    Successful relationships do not necessarily have to take the form of marriages with children. I’m a 30 year-old woman who has been in a strong, loving relationship for 12 years, even though my companion and I are not married. We have no intention of having children.

  • JetGirl70

    I find this guy’s views on women just as nauseating as the rest of you.
    And here’s a big question: what if a woman actually wants to get married young, but there are no viable candidates around?
    I didn’t meet my husband until I was 30, and I was never the type with the long line of gentleman callers at the door, though I dated and was in a few relationships. Nothing clicked until I met him.
    A good friend of mine couldn’t wait to get married right out of high school. Her boyfriends (and she dated a few older guys, as the author would approve) didn’t. She and I both wound up getting married at 35, and both of us are very happy.
    This guy acts like young women have this infinite choice and are just too spoiled and picky. Bullshit. Finding the right partner is often about luck and timing.

  • dream

    Further, I would like to add that he does mention decreased fertility for men in the article. It’s right after the area quoted.
    “Although male fertility lives on, it doesn’t hold out forever, either: Studies emerging from Europe and Australia note that a couple’s chances of conceiving fall off notably when men pass the age of 40, and that several developmental disorders are slightly more common in children of older fathers.”

  • PS

    “market value” . . . . .
    it is so absurd I can but laugh.
    my counter argument would be countless studies have shown most marriages fail if the man or women is married before the age of 25.
    thanks for linking this.

  • smiley

    I am going to be shot down in flames, I know it, I know it.
    I only read the initial intro, but it seems to me that what the two authors are saying does make sense: [...] women’s “market value” declines steadily as they age, while men’s tends to rise in step with their growing resources (that is, money and maturation) [...]
    Immediate dislaimers: I am a man, unmarried, on the market, etc.
    I am sure – again, no scientific studies, but based on what my girlfriends say and on what I see – that younger women have more, err, ‘success’ with men. Superficially, maybe, but true. Not for all, but on the whole (gee, I am covering my whatsit, aren’t I?).
    I would guess (again, not scientific…), that a 25-year old woman in a disco will attract more attention than a 40-year old. Not fair, so superficial, so ‘manly’, maybe, but also a fact.
    Also, rich men are more attractive than poor men. Not fair, not true for all women, etc., but that’s the way it is. Wealth is hardly a turn-off.
    Given those two ‘facts’, the authors are only putting into journalese what everyone knows or suspects. So what is the big deal?
    Life is unfair. Get on with it.

  • dream

    Further, I would like to add that he does mention decreased fertility for men in the article. It’s right after the area quoted.
    “Although male fertility lives on, it doesn’t hold out forever, either: Studies emerging from Europe and Australia note that a couple’s chances of conceiving fall off notably when men pass the age of 40, and that several developmental disorders are slightly more common in children of older fathers.”

  • Alessa

    But the bulk of the article focuses on the impending infertility of women, and how it is such a “huge” problem that women are marrying later and decreasing their odds of having a successful pregnancy. Why aren’t men being pressured just as much in this article to marry young because, as you stated, they are also at risk for decreased fertility? Oh, because “for men, age can be a credit, increasing their access to resources”. IE they’re richer and can take care of the girl saddled down with a baby. No mention about how women are perfectly capable of generating their own significant income, or that not all married couples have the desire for children. It’s just about women’s ability to conceive, and implying that’s all she’s worth.
    The general message is that women need to marry early so they don’t take the risk of losing their ability to bear children, whereas men can “get around to it”. And of course, the implication behind that is that women are only worth their ability to have children.

  • Alessa

    What you’re implying, though, is that there is no decrease in attraction for older men. A 45 year old man is not nearly as likely to get hit on by a 20 year old women. The media tells us this happens all the time, but honestly, how many women do you know who have married someone much older? It’s only to be expected that the reverse would be true for women – although the cougar phenomenon seems to be making a run to change that (and I’m not entirely sure how to feel about that either…)
    Second – anyone who whittles down a woman’s (or man’s, for that matter!) VALUE to something as inconsequential as age, fertility, or money seriously has a messed up view of relationships and what marriage is about! The people that play that game rarely have happy marriages (if they marry at all) because they don’t see people.
    Personally, I find this entire discussion about a “market value” offensive as hell. Because it essentially dehumanizes people.
    Women in particular are the victims in this article (as they commonly are..)