Enthusiasts, Delayers, and the Ambiguous Middle: Marital Paradigms Among Emerging Adults


marital attitudes, marital beliefs, marital paradigms, marriage, young adulthood, emerging adulthood


Utilizing a sample of 571 college students, we examined the varying marital paradigms held by emerging adults. Drawing on Marital Paradigm Theory, we explored how beliefs about Marital Salience, timing, process, context, permanence, and centrality created unique paradigms about marriage. We found evidence that emerging adults can be separated into at least three marital paradigms, labeled Enthusiast, Delayer, and Hesitant. We found that most emerging adults hold a Hesitant marital paradigm highlighted by a strong belief in the importance of marriage and a desire to marry but a general belief in the lack of Marital Permanence and a hesitation to marry quickly. Other results suggested that marital paradigms are linked to demographic characteristics such as age and religiosity and also linked to risk-taking behaviors, particularly alcohol use and binge drinking rates. Specifically, those emerging adults who held an Enthusiast paradigm reported less alcohol or binge drinking compared to those in the Hesitant class.

Original Publication Citation

Willoughby, B. J., & Hall, S. (2015). Enthusiasts, delayers, and the ambiguous middle: Marital paradigms among emerging adults. Emerging Adulthood, 3, 123-135.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


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Emerging Adulthood




Family, Home, and Social Sciences


Family Life

University Standing at Time of Publication

Associate Professor