Sociological researchers' latest conundrum: is it better to get married earlier or later in life?

The debate is framed in a new USA Today article lovingly named "Is there an ideal age for first marriage?" (We imagine the next piece in their installment: "Is there an ideal age for first divorce?")

Later and Later
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average age women got married in 1890 was 22. Today, it's closer to 26 (28 for men), the oldest it's ever been. Back in the 1940s, the ideal age for women to tie the knot was 21, but now it's 25 according to a Gallup poll. It makes sense we're waiting to walk down the aisle given the fact humans now live well past age 50 and many women have become as career-oriented and financially secure as men.

One reason people are waiting? It now takes us longer to become, well, adults. People are staying in school longer than ever and in this economy, spending longer getting established in careers. Sociologists also point out that couples used to get married out of financial necessity; now that women can support themselves they're able to hold out for someone they want (rather than need) to marry.

Which group is two to three times more likely to divorce? (After the jump.)

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Is It Good for Love?
Some argue that marrying young is still the way to go: You're at your prime for child-rearing and still have the energy to enjoy kids and your spouse. Though many researchers have found that couples who marry before the age of 20 are two to three times more likely to divorce. Mature marriage advocates say the self-awareness and financial security that come with being older lessen the chance of divorce, though there's less time to work on having children.

Studies are at odds about which group of couples, older or younger, are more likely to stay together. A University of Texas researcher has found that young-20s couples are happier than those who get married later in life; while a sociologist at Penn State, who used different data, found that older couples were happier.

The real difference may lie in what's being measured. Younger couples may be more idealistic (and less jaded by years of dating), they claim greater satisfaction. But later in life, couples are more likely to value compatibility and report satisfaction in shared activities.

Been There, Tried That
Jen F. from Pennsylvania experienced a young marriage that dissolved. "I got married at 24, after being engaged for 2.5 years. At the time, I was perfectly ready to be married, but as it turns out, even with the long wait, my husband wasn't ready. We were divorced within two years. Now I'm a big proponent of encouraging people to think about whether they want to get married at all, which I think some never consider."

Tanya V. from New Jersey says marrying later is "a smart thing to do." "In my opinion, you are more mature and know what you want--for the most part--and how this person can make it a reality with you."

Tell us: Are you a tortoise or a hare when it comes to getting to the altar?

Also on Lemondrop:
The craziest weddings of all time!

10 Outrageous Theme Weddings

    Biker Wedding Why leave your Harley at home for the big day when you can ride down the aisle in style? This couple takes leather to the altar and shows their guests exactly how to ride off in to the sunset, without chafing.

    Mad Man Dan / FaithRiders

    Renaissance Wedding Grab your lute and mount your trusty steed! If you're donning a garter, run swiftly. One rather aggressive medieval tradition called for guests to try and grab a piece of the garment by any means necessary.

    WWII Wedding Time to party like its1939? All 100 guests at this wedding got in to theme, donning fur wraps, berets and caps adorned with feathers. For authenticity they piped in the sound of sirens and Lancaster bombers flying overhead.

    Hartlepool Mail

    Zombie Wedding If the undead get married, then it really is a union that will last forever. To make it really authentic you could even get carried in a coffin to the altar. Consider eating beforehand if you don't like brains.

    Star Wars Wedding We hope Yoda presided over this wedding ("Take the bride, do you?"). The London Telegraph reports on one such union where Princess Leia was the ring bearer, clad in the infamous gold bikini.

    klobtime, Flickr

    Disney Princess Wedding Nothing makes your wedding more personal than buying a dress from a Disney franchise. Weddings at the actual Disney parks start at 10 grand ("Cinderella" is the most-requested theme, and Mickeywill pose with you.) Next up: "Lion King" groomsmen!?

    Disney Bridal

    Football Wedding This couple was married at the Cincinnati Bengals' Paul Brown Stadium. No word on whether the bride wore a sports bra.

    Gangster Wedding Bonnie and Clyde made being a gangster romantic and now you can too with some vintage duds and smart pinstripes.

    thebreadline, Flickr

    Hello Kitty Wedding Never moved past your Hello Kitty pencil case? You can pay to have two giant hello kitties escort you down the aisle, like this couple.

    Lord of the Rings Wedding "One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them." Take your 'precious' to the Alter and recite lines straight from Tolkien's classic as the vows. These LOTR superfans earn bonus points for their Minas Tirith cake.

    Sarah and Patrick Needham