The more the economy tightens, the more difficult it is for men, especially, to get married. Consequently, the marriage age for men rises.
I checked the age at which my father and his brothers, cousins and friends married in the 1950s and 1960s. I found out that it was within their mid-20s. My father, in particular, got married to my mother when he was 24 years old.
When my elder brother and his age mates got married in the 1980s, they did so in their late 20s. He got married at 29. Before then, our father had been telling him for about two years that he was due for marriage.
At 26, I was ready for marriage – mentally, psychologically, spiritually, physiologically – but my pocket was not. My take-home pay was not taking me home. In spite of that, I was counted among the lucky few who got a job shortly after graduation and went to work in a suit. Since my salary was low to sustain me, I felt it would be selfish of me to bring in a girl to join me in that situation. Having a child then would have compounded a bad situation.
I was not looking for a billion naira. I just wanted to have enough funds to take care of the basic needs of a family. And I didn’t want my family to take care of my wedding or to feed my children and clothe my wife for me. Therefore, I waited.
I eventually got ready at 32 and got married at 33. That was late by my expectation, but that was the earliest I could marry. I wish I was ready earlier. I would have married at about 28.
Having studied the marriage age over the years, I have noticed a gradual rise in the marriage age of men and women. As I said, my father married at 24 in the 1950s. His brothers and friends married at about that same age. My elder brother married at 29 in 1987. Before he got married, he bought a brand-new Peugeot 504 Serie 2 and built his own house close to our father’s. I married at 33 in the 2000s. Many of my friends and relatives married at about that same age. Today, I have noticed that many of the young men around me are getting married between 35 and 40 years.
There is a cause-and-effect relationship between the delay in men to marry and the age at which women marry. The more men delay marriage, the more the marriage age of women moves up, because in our environment, men still marry women, not the other way round. 30 years is looking like 20 years among ladies now because many men who are 35 still think that it is too early for them to get married.
Among the Igbo, this is more prevalent. The Igbo have this tradition that the man has to be wholly responsible for the cost of all the customary marriage rites as well as the church wedding expenses. And these events need to be impressive. There is also this attitude that a man needs to get a very good apartment or house, a good car, a good amount of money in the bank before getting married. As a result, the young men wait and wait to get ready financially. They soon realize that they are over 35 years old but still not ready.
I used to admire the Yoruba attitude towards early marriage. At 30, a Yoruba man would not only be married but would also have one or two children, while his Igbo counterpart at the same level in the same office would not even be thinking about marriage. But in recent times I have noticed that the late marriage bug has bitten some Yoruba guys, as I have seen many Yoruba guys in their 30s, who have good jobs but are not even talking about marriage. They either think they are not old enough or are not ready financially.
There is no doubt that the single most contributory factor for late marriage among men is finance. A young man graduates from the university at 24 years, after losing two years to strikes. Then he rounds up one-year compulsory national service at 25. He spends two or three years searching for a job. Maybe at 28 he eventually gets a job or starts a business. But whatever he does for a living now is not his dream job or business. He hangs in there for two or three years before getting another job or stabilising in the business. By now he is about 31 years old. He gives the venture another four years before he feels that he is ripe for marriage. By then he is 35 years old. Even at that, many people would see him as having moved fast, for some don’t get a job three years after graduation. Many have to start one form of business or the other; either selling clothes and shoes or driving a cab.
It is important for a man to be financially stable before getting married. However, the earlier a man gets married, the better for him. For women, it is even more critical because of the biological clock that makes it hard or impossible for women to have children at certain ages.
Therefore, if a man is financially stable at 30, let him marry. There is no need believing that it is better to enjoy one’s youth and freedom to the maximum. For a woman, between 25 and 30 is a great period to marry, all things being equal. There is enormous energy in men and women in their 30s and early 40s to raise children and build a home. It is also exciting when one is taking the steps of life with one’s age mates: changing diapers with one’s age mates; doing school run with one’s age mates; building a house with one’s age mates, etc. By the time one is between 55 and 60 and retired, and the children are through with university education, it is awesome. It offers one the opportunity to enjoy one’s retirement age with less stress.
By Azuka Onwuka
– Twitter: @BrandAzuka