Why marrying too young can be bad for your emotional health

A University of Alberta study reveals that people who marry too young may experience more symptoms of depression later on in mid-life.

'Getting married early was a risk factor for more depression,' says Alberta researcher

A University of Alberta study of nearly 1,000 Edmonton high school seniors who graduated in the 1980s shows that people who marry too young run the risk of mid-life depression. (The Great Canadian Baking Show)

Getting married too young can be hazardous to your mental health.

That's one of the findings of University of Alberta associate professor Matt Johnson, who appeared Monday on the Calgary Eyeopener.

Johnson's observations come from data gathered from close to 1,000 Edmonton-area residents who were high school seniors back in the 1980s. They were followed at various points in their lives right up until a few weeks ago, when they turned 50.

Matthew Johnson, an associate professor at the University of Alberta, says researchers looked at the timing of marriage and found that those who got married 'on time' or late in comparison to their peers were less depressed later on. (University of Alberta)

"We were interested to see how marriage related to well-being later on in life," Johnson said.

What they discovered wasn't all blue Mondays.

'Getting married is a boost to your well-being'

"A lot of studies show getting married is a boost to your well-being, and we found that as well among this sample," Johnson said.

"Those who got married were less depressed, they were happier and had higher self-esteem than those who didn't."

The variable was that the average marrying age was around 25 for women, and 28 for men.

"We looked specifically at the timing of marriage and found that those people who got married on time or late in comparison to their peers — they actually were even less depressed than average," he said.

The problems started when people got married ahead of time.

"Getting married early was a risk factor for more depression, basically," Johnson said.

Accelerating life stages

"They ended education sooner, they started careers sooner and they had kids earlier — so all of those things in combination may have resulted in people ending up in jobs that maybe they didn't aspire to, they didn't really want but needed to do because of the demands in other ways of their life."

"They were a bit more depressed when it came to mid-life," he said.

"If they got married later, they finished school or got more education on average, ended up in higher paying, prestige jobs, and they were a bit happier in mid-life."

However, Johnson did acknowledge that there could be such a thing as waiting too long to tie the knot.

"There will come a point where waiting has diminishing returns, because the longer you wait, the fewer potential partners there are in your peer group — because people partner up, and as time passes … there's fewer to choose from."

And for all that data collection and analysis, Johnson also acknowledged that what was considered "on-time" marrying age for someone who graduated from high school in Edmonton in 1988 probably is considered a little early in 2018.

"We know contemporary cohorts are delaying marriage longer and longer, so what's 'on time' now?" he asked. "It's into the 30s for women and edging into mid-thirties for men. 

"Absolutely it's changing. As the global economy has caused shifts in family life, people are waiting longer to get married and settle down. 

"There is still a kind of normative age where people are getting married and making that commitment," he said. "It's just a bit later than it was a few decades ago."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.

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Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email:


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