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While adult marriage declines, married life at UNC receives positive response

Some married or engaged college students receive negative responses and criticism about their marital statuses.

Some married or engaged college students receive negative responses and criticism about their marital statuses.

While the average age for men and women to get married has been climbing in recent years, North Carolina has remained below the national average for age of first marriage, as well as percentage of inhabitants who are married. 

While it is more common for graduate students to have spouses and children, undergraduates are no strangers to tying the knot. 

“I don’t think me from freshman year would be incredibly surprised that I’m engaged,” senior Sarah Cheek said. “I never thought about myself getting married right after college, but I never had a preconceived plan to get married at 30 either.” 

Cheek has been engaged since August and has been with her fiancé for three years. The wedding is set for June 30, the summer after Cheek graduates. She has not found her engagement to be any different from typical long-term relationships, except for the wedding planning. When she announced the engagement to friends and family, they were all supportive. 

“I have friends at Carolina who would never get married young, but they were very supportive,” Cheek said. “I wondered if anyone would think it’s dumb, or vocally criticize me, but people say things like, ‘Y’all are really great together.’” 

While Cheek’s community at UNC embraces her relationship status, she found backlash from her peers while studying abroad in Montreal. The marital rates in Québec have been decreasing sharply since 1971. 

“Maybe because we’re in the South, (marriage is) more common socially,” Cheek said. “I found myself hoping (my engagement) wouldn't be brought up and I would have to defend myself. I had people explicitly ask me why I’m getting married, but in Chapel Hill no one asked that.” 

Cheek’s experience with negative stigmas associated with a college engagement occurred abroad, but some married students experience negative reactions during their time on campus. Kaitlyn Braxton will have been married for three years in July and recalls a handful of negative reactions to her marital status. 

“This woman on Franklin was checking my ID that my husband was holding,” Braxton said. “She saw that I was 22 and married and said, ‘Oh, you’re married,’ and asked me why I did that, said I was too young. She was probably my age or younger.” 

Despite the occasional negative response, Braxton noted that Chapel Hill has a geographically diverse population, and students from small towns in North Carolina understand her situation more than other peers. 

“I have a different experience here than most undergrads,” Braxton said. “It’s probably a combination of being older and being married.” 

For some married students at UNC, Baity Hill Graduate and Family Housing is home to them and their spouse, and in some cases, their children. Baity Hill offers apartments and bedrooms for rent, and residents must show proof of marriage, domestic partnership, birth certificates or other relevant documents. 

“Fewer and fewer universities are offering family housing,” said Richard Bradley, associate director of Baity Hill. “It’s difficult to compare to other universities, but from what I know of others, it’s fairly similar. Most are experiencing similar trends in that the number (of residents) has declined in the last 20 years.” 

This decline mirrors the national trend of U.S. adult marriages decreasing to slightly over half of the national population. While changing societal norms may explain the few undergraduates who are engaged or married, in Cheek and Braxton’s case, a majority of the reactions by peers to their relationship status has been positive.

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