News / Edmonton

Getting married too early could hurt long-term mental health: Study

But waiting too long could leave you marrying 'someone suboptimal,' University of Alberta researchers say

Stock image / Balogiannis, Georgia

Getting married young could set you up for a mid-life crisis, according to new research out of the University of Alberta.

A paper published as part of the Edmonton Transition Study, which has followed hundreds of Edmontonians for more than 30 years, found those who married earlier than their peers are more likely to be depressed than those who married at the same time or later than their peers.

Male participants married at age 28 on average, and female participants at age 25.

“Our key belief around this finding is that early marriage kind of coincides with other early major transitions – having kids earlier, getting less education, and potentially landing in jobs that maybe people didn’t aspire to, that wouldn’t be optimal, but they did it because they had to,” said U of A family ecology researcher Matthew Johnson.

“We think early marriage kind of accelerates these other transitions, and decades later in mid life, people aren’t as satisfied with how things have turned out for them.”

Researchers started following 983 high school seniors from across Edmonton in 1985, to track their work experience, mental health and family relationships.

This is the first time they have done an in-depth analysis of how marriage played out in the lives of the 406 that are still participating.

Researchers found those who married early are still better off than those who didn’t marry at all, however. In line with previous studies on the subject, researchers found married people are generally “happier, less depressed and had higher self esteem.”

Johnson said some reason for increased happiness among those who waited is that they used that time to achieve higher education and set themselves up for personal success.

“They got into potentially more skilled jobs and potentially made more money as well,” he said.

“So, delaying marriage allowed them to achieve other milestones in their life that paid dividends later on.”

However, Johnson warned, there is probably a “ceiling effect,” meaning waiting is only advantageous for so long.

“The longer you wait, people partner up and choices are fewer and farther between,” he said. “So there’s likely a ceiling where waiting longer is no longer going to be beneficial to you, because you may end up with so few potential partners to choose from that you settle for someone suboptimal.”

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