Seth and Kate Green with their children Grace, 11 months, Kaya, 5 and Naomi,… (Andrew A. Nelles/RedEye )
Kate Green is living the so-called American Dream. She has a husband of five years whom she counts as her soul mate, three young daughters and a four-bedroom, three-bathroom house south of Chicago.
And, oh yeah, she's only 25.
"I love my life. I love my kids. I love living like a grown-up," said Green, who grew up in Westmont and now lives in Aroma Township in Kankakee County.
Consider her a grown-up among adults who prefer playtime to naptime. Only one in five American adults ages 18-29 are married, according to a study Washington think tank Pew Research Center released in December. That same analysis found the median age for first marriages in 2010 was nearly 29 for grooms and 26 1/2 for brides, up from 26 for grooms and 24 for brides in 1990. Having three kids before 30? Safe to say Green's in the minority there too.
The American Dream—historically defined as marriage, mortgage and munchkins—hasn't changed, but the amount of time it takes to attain it has increased, Northwestern University assistant professor of sociology Christine Percheski told RedEye.
Men are waiting to get financially stable before they marry while women are pursuing master's degrees before they pursue M-R-S degrees (as in Mrs.). It doesn't help, Percheski said, that the sputtering economy has made it more difficult for Americans to shore up their finances or get their degrees at all.
"There's been very little change in young adults' attitudes over the last 30 years toward marriage and children," said Percheski, an Institute for Policy Research faculty fellow. "I think it's just taking people longer to achieve those goals now."
For Casey Spitz, it hasn't taken long to achieve two-thirds of the American Dream.
Spitz, 24, wed her sweetheart of five years in October. They already had a home: an Arlington Heights condo that Spitz said they purchased in 2010 before they got engaged because the housing market was favorable.
"I didn't feel like I was young at all," Spitz said about getting married and owning a condo. "I grew up in a farming family. They got married much younger and had children much younger."
Spitz said her mother was 19 when she got married and 20 when she gave birth to her.
At 18, Spitz met her future husband at the University of Illinois, and they have been together ever since.
Spitz said even though many of their friends from college were married, her husband, who is 25, worried about marrying too young and pushed for an "extended engagement" of a year and a half.
"I think he would have preferred to wait a couple of years [to get married]," Spitz said. "We know it was a 'when' we got married not an 'if' we got married."
Though she's been married only a few months, Spitz already has plans for a family and a house with a fence.
"By the time I have a child walking, I'd like to have a house with a yard for them to play in. That's kind of the goal we've set," she said.
Still, this dream is a few years off. Last year Spitz began studying for her MBA at the University of Chicago, so she said becoming a mom is at least four years away.
"Maybe later than I would have planned personally, but it matches better with what my husband has planned," Spitz said.
Like the Spitzes, some couples choose to live together instead of getting married right away, which is one reason the median age of marriage has increased, Percheski said.
Also, marrying young can have its drawbacks. Research has shown people who marry before age 20 are two to three times more likely to divorce.
"I'm not sure I would want to encourage everyone to get married at a very young age," Percheski said. "What works for couples in the 1950s is not necessarily what works today."
Green's marriage story fits a more old-fashioned narrative.
Two months after she met her future husband at age 19, she was engaged. They have three daughters: Kaya, 5; Naomi, 4; and Grace, 11 months.
Green said if she and her husband could afford it she'd have 12 children, but they currently plan to have only the three.
The couple purchased their home in August 2010, and Green works as a stay-at-home mom, though she wants to study nursing.
Green said she's glad she got started on a family early, especially since her parents married in their early 30s and had kids in their late 30s.
"I just want to enjoy my kids as long as I can. I want to be there for everything," Green said. "No regrets."
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