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New study finds student debt could affect young adults' decision to get married

​Paying off debts is more of a priority than marriage for many young people

Photo (c) Georgijevic - Getty Images
A new study that was recently published in Springer -- “The Changing Nature of the Association Between Student Loan Debt and Marital Behavior in Young Adulthood” -- examined the trends amongst young people regarding the effects student loans have on the timeline of marriage.

As more and more young people graduate college and living with a partner before marriage becomes more normalized, society has seen a shift in the number of people marrying young. However, with college degrees come student loans -- and as the number of young people with student loans continues to rise, researchers continue to look at the trends between economic responsibility and marital trends.

This most recent study was led by Fenaba Addo of the University of Wisconsin Madison, who sees the societal shift to be beneficial for couples who have incurred student debt over the years. Many young couples have been living together unmarried as it costs less, but putting marriage off until debts are paid off in full.

“Rising student debt is reshaping relationship formation among college-going youth, and as cohabitation has become more widespread, social and economic disparities in who marries without cohabitating first have increased,” Addo said in a news release.

The study

The research team examined public records from young adults in 1979 and 1997 who participated in the National Longitudinal Study of Youth (NLSY).

The major differences between the two groups are the decades in which they grew up, and the societal norms during those decades, though everyone who participated attended college.

The responses indicated that nearly 70 percent of the respondents from 1979 were married by their mid-30s, while over half of the group from 1997 was unmarried by the same age.

The 1997 group was not only found to be more likely to take on a student loan than the 1979 group, but they also accumulated much more student debt than the older group. The younger group was also more likely to live with their partners before marriage -- or before even deciding on marriage.  

On a similar note, the 1997 group’s tendency to acquire a student loan -- and thus, student debt -- was seen by society as a reason for delaying marriage -- particularly for women -- while this was not the case for the older group.

Additionally, the older group was found to be far more likely than the younger group to get married prior to living with their partners. Just 6.7 percent of respondents from the 1979 group lived together before marriage, compared with 22.4 percent of 1997 respondents. While under 15 percent of the 1997 group married without first living together, over one-third of the 1979 group did the same.

The findings from the study provide a unique insight into society’s ever-changing education and marital trends.

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