Getting an education shouldn’t be a luxury, but in the US, earning a college degree can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and often much more. Earlier this year, student loan debt hit an all-time high, and 1 in 8 divorcing couples split up primarily because of it. With so much economic uncertainty, deciding to take out loans to pay for college is a serious risk, but for those who are willing to take it, it means being conservative in another important area: relationships.
According to a new study performed at the University of Wisconsin Madison and published in Springer’s Journal of Family and Economic Issues, millennials are deciding to forgo saying “I do” and instead settle for living together in order to save money and pay off their student loan debt first.
In theory, this isn’t a bad thing. It seems financially smarter to pay off debts before getting even deeper in the hole by throwing a massive wedding. Given that the average wedding costs $30,000, the idea of adding that to the already substantial pile of student loan payments can seem overwhelming and totally unattractive.
Research found that people in their early to mid-30s were married in much higher numbers back in the 1970s—roughly 70%—but by the late 1990s, that number had fallen substantially to roughly 50% and continuing to decline even now. Incidentally, women seem to be more likely to wait until their debt is paid off before considering marrying, opting simply to live with their partner instead.
As lead author Fenaba Addo explains, “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 cohabiting first have increased.”
Whether the declining marriage rate is a good or bad thing is anyone’s guess, but the fact that student loan debt is standing in the way of so much we want to do in life is concerning and upsetting.