Sooner or later? The marital horizons of parents and their emerging adult children


emerging adulthood, marital attitudes, marriage, parents, young adulthood


Grounded in a marital horizon theory of emerging adulthood, this article presents a study that provides an evaluation of the differences between parents’ and emerging adults’ views about marriage. Using a sample of 536 emerging adults and their parents (446 mothers, 360 fathers) recruited from five college sites from across the United States, the study sought to identify parents’ marital ideals for their children and to investigate how these attitudes compare to those of emerging adults themselves. Results demonstrated that there are significant differences between parents and emerging adults with regard to marital horizon factors. Specifically, parents reported a higher desired age for marriage, lower importance of marriage as a life goal, and emphasized different criteria of marriage readiness than their emerging adult children. Results also suggest that contemporary patterns of delayed marriage among emerging adults are generally supported, and perhaps encouraged, by parents.

Original Publication Citation

Willoughby, B.J., Olson, C.D., Carroll, J.S., Nelson, L.J., & Miller, R. (2012). Sooner or later?: Parents’ marital horizons for their young adult children. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 29, 967-981.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL


Journal of Social and Personal Relationships




Family, Home, and Social Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor