Pastor Doug Wilson tackles the very real problem of delayed marriage in: 7 Reasons Young Men Should Marry Before Their 23rd Birthday.
We do have a pressing problem. According to The Atlantic, right now the average age for a first marriage is 27 for women, and 29 for men. In 1990, it was 23 for women and 26 for men. In 1960, it was 20 for women and 22 for men. This is a grease fire disaster.
Wilson accurately describes the problem delayed marriage creates with regard to temptation to sin:
1. There is no such thing as gift of singleness. That is not a Bible thing. Paul does teach that there is a gift of celibacy. “For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that” (1 Cor. 7:7).
For someone who is gifted with celibacy, marriage would constitute a distraction (1 Cor. 7:33). But for someone without that gift, the absence of marriage would be the distraction. Burning with passion does have a way of distracting.
If someone is single (who very much wants to be married), that condition is only a gift in the sense that every affliction is a gift.
Where Wilson goes terribly wrong however is in understanding the social changes which are driving delayed marriage. Wilson believes that men are driving the change, through a combination of a desire to sow their wild oats and excessive pickiness (emphasis mine):
An unmarried person should have high standards for their future spouse when it comes to Christian commitments, basic responsibility, compatible personalities, and sexual attractiveness. But this needs to be balanced against the temptation (which comes very easily to men) of not having any awareness of what league they are actually in. “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Rom. 12:3).
In a follow up post Wilson reiterates that the problem is Christian men being unwilling to marry the large number of unmarried Christian women who want nothing more than to be godly wives (emphasis mine):
3. I am a pastor, and this is a pressing pastoral problem. And I have talked to many other pastors who agree that it is a pressing pastoral problem. The nature of the pastoral problem is that of a large and growing population of unmarried women who would love to be married, and who would make good and godly wives. In the conservative church, it would not be unusual to find this cohort of women outnumbering the men in the same station of life by a factor of about 5 to 1. Some of this is caused by the church’s hostility to masculinity, resulting in men being made to feel unwelcome in the church, and some of it is caused by the men who remain being encouraged to perpetuate their teen years by a decade or so. Singleness is a gift, the teaching goes.
In short, Wilson has the problem exactly backwards. He overlooks the fact that women are very open about their desire to ride the carousel for as long as possible before marriage. He also clearly doesn’t understand the realities of the sexual marketplace (SMP) and marriage marketplace (MMP). Young women are the rockstars of the SMP, while young men are near the bottom. Since young women have the power, they set the terms. And what women want* is years, if not a decade or more, of sex with a small subset of the most attractive men before settling for a boring loyal dude. It makes no sense that men would prefer to marry just when their SMP stock is on the rise, and just when the SMP stock of their soon to be bride is rapidly declining.
Rollo has done an excellent job of mapping out the respective SMP power positions as men and women age, and of course dating sites like OK Cupid can easily see the same structure. We can also see women’s understanding of their changing SMP/MMP power with age reflected in the dramatic drop in divorce rates as the wife ages. The data is clear, but the problem is calling out women’s sins, including sexual sins, is difficult and extremely uncomfortable. For this reason modern Christians will continue to deny what young women are very open about, just as they deny women’s culpability when they have abortions.
*Obviously not all women choose to ride the carousel prior to seeking a husband, but Wilson is writing about the issue in general, and I am responding in that same frame.