Sara Routhier, Managing Editor of Features and Outreach, has professional experience as an educator, SEO specialist, and content marketer. She has over five years of experience in the insurance industry. As a researcher, data nerd, writer, and editor she strives to curate educational, enlightening articles that provide you with the must-know facts and best-kept secrets within the overwhelming worl...

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Joel Ohman is the CEO of a private equity-backed digital media company. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, author, angel investor, and serial entrepreneur who loves creating new things, whether books or businesses. He has also previously served as the founder and resident CFP® of a national insurance agency, Real Time Health Quotes. He also has an MBA from the University of South Florida. ...

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Reviewed by Joel Ohman
Founder, CFP®

UPDATED: Mar 29, 2012

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While they may not be destroying the family (yet), student loans are definitely postponing the start of them. As the younger generations struggle to repay their educational debt, many are putting off marriage and children until they’re financially stable—and financial stability for many means being relieved of all student loan obligations. For some, that means starting a family in their early 30s. For others, that could mean putting off marriage until they’re a few centuries old.

A new study by IHS Global Insight reveals that while other forms of debt have been declining over the past five years, student loan debt has been continually growing. The growth of student loans is not only in the number and frequency of their origination, but also in the amount each loan is being taken out for. While these student loans are increasing, the median age for marriage and beginning a family is also on the rise, following closely behind those college financing numbers.

According to BusinessWeek, the IHS report revealed the median age for marriage back in 2007 was 27.5 years old for males and 25.6 years old for females. But by 2011, that age rose to 28.7 and 26.5 for males and females respectively.

Fertility rates, which are defined as births per 1,000 women who are between the ages of 25-44 decreased from 69.3 to below 65 between 2007 and 2011.

As student loans haunt the pocket books of our younger generations, they’re postponing the question, “Will you marry me?” and replacing it with, “Let’s get married once we pay off our college debt.”

The Impact of a Later Marriage

While it’s a very financially wise decision to put marriage off until a couple is debt free (financial problems ranking as number one in the top 10 reasons marriages fail), there are still consequences to starting a family later in life.

According to a paper from the University of Pennsylvania, fertility rates drop significantly after a woman turns the age of 35. Additionally, the risk of having a miscarriage during the first trimester of pregnancy for women older than 40 doubles when compared to the risk associated with ages 35 and younger.

Furthermore, having a child later in life means parents will grow older before they relieve themselves of responsibility for that child. Having a baby at 40 years old destines parents to take care of that child nearly until those parents are of retirement age. In some cases—almost most cases now—parents will be stuck with their children well into their retirement years. Nearly 43 percent of 25 to 34 year olds were living with their parents in 2010, and that number has continued to rise, as reported by the Huffington Post.

The Divorce Factor

But the effect student loans have on marriage and family start-ups isn’t just limited to financial confidence. There’s another practical, albeit slightly discouraging, factor at play: the fear of acquiring debt in the event divorce occurs.

When a couple marries, they willingly enter into an agreement to share both assets and debt. Since 43 percent of first marriages break up within 15 years, it should come as little surprise that couples postpone marriage until their and their spouse’s student loan debt is satisfied.

‘100 hours of minimum wage compensation’

Finally, the lack of jobs works in tandem with the problem of student loans and launches the beginning family age even higher. Due to unemployment and underemployment, many graduates are forced to forebear their debt payments, which only works to increase their balance. Consequently, student loans will take even longer to pay off once graduates find a job.

The Obama administration has attempted to help curb the problem of student loan debt by announcing a proposal to forgive all debt after 20 years of continual payment (down from the current 25 year forgiveness period), but some believe such a program will provide very little help. The Atlantic, in fact, revealed that such a plan saves the average grad less than $10 a month.

Saving students $10 a month over the course of 20 years is around the equivalent of only 100 hours of minimum wage compensation.

As student loans steadily rise to contend with the highest sources of consumer debt in the nation, family dynamics are forced to change. While family start-ups are evidently being postponed, growing debt coupled with lack of jobs and the soaring divorce rate may very well contribute to the family-system’s eventual destruction.