We’re engaged! The science behind ‘ring by spring’

Abbey Hull for redOrbit.com – @AbbeyHull4160

You’re scrolling through Instagram, seeing pictures of funny cats, stylish coffees, and oh, another engagement ring. Does that make four friends now? Five? As many friends as the number of carats in that ring?

It’s easy to lose track. I know I have. Since February alone I’ve watched six of my friends get engaged–and five more are planning to be engaged by June. That’s 11 friends in 6 months. ELEVEN FRIENDS.

ring by spring

So it leaves me to wonder: Is ring by spring still a thing? And if so, is it simply the result of attending a Christian university? Or are there other motivations behind getting engaged before you graduate?

Curious, I turned to a few experts across the country.

But first, a quick definition of ‘ring by spring’

For those who read the above paragraph and wondered, “What the h*ll is ring by spring?” Let me offer some clarification.

Ring by spring is the (arguably 13th century) notion of college senior couples getting engaged between the months of January and June, thinking their next step after a diploma is a marriage certificate.

Urban Dictionary adds some delightful context:

“Chastity, if I don’t get my ring by spring, the $100,000 I spent to go to this school will be a total waste!”

When people are still unclear of what I’m talking about, I just show them this image:

ring by spring

That pretty much sums it up.

But…maybe ring by spring is…not a thing…?

Looking at American social trends since the 1960s, the median marriage age has increased, with women’s marriage age increasing from 20 to 24 years old and men increasing from 22 to 28 years old.

Studying this increase in age, America’s historical cultural changes have only spurred this difference. For some researchers, like Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, PhD, a psychologist studying the ring by spring phenomenon, the new age trend comes not only from an increase in the number of young people who attend college, thus deferring their transition into adulthood, but also from cultural changes in views towards sexuality and women’s rights.

“Moreover, women now make up a majority of college undergraduates, and many want to build a career before they marry and have children,” said Arnett. He continues to link this change with the development of the birth control pill. “Decades ago, young people got married rather then face the risks of pregnancy outside marriage. Now, sexual relationships outside of marriage are accepted as natural by many people.”

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Don’t think it’s culture alone—the economy also plays a part in this engaging season. And we can all blame (you guessed it, graduating seniors): student loans.

Melanie Stanley-Soulen, a licensed professional counselor for premarital young couples, especially took note of this trend. “It’s different than it was 10 to 20 years ago,” she said. “If something doesn’t happen with our student loan programs, couples will continue to simply cohabit…Before it was considered somewhat taboo, but people understand it’s necessary now, especially with the rate of divorce.”

Let’s compare the two costs: the impending wedding costs of today, where The Knot, a notable wedding planning company, finds the American cost of a wedding averages around almost $29,858, and the average student loan debt is settling around $29,400. Given the numbers, it’s understandable why students would be reluctant to basically double their debt and stress about when they can pay it back.

With all the points of how ring by spring has declined over the past 50 years, it would seem as though ring by spring is on its way out of the chapel doors. But then why are engagement and proposal photos of college seniors continuing to pop up when I refresh my feed?

Ring by spring is not extinct everywhere

There may be cultural reasons why ring by spring may be disappearing, but there’s still reasons that it is here to stay. Why some college students may see it more than others can relate to the college in which they attend. While most all schools, private and public, have heard of ring by spring at least to some degree, private Christian universities hold it as a more prominent tradition surrounding their values about marriage…a reason that explains the increased number of relationship status changes from February to June.

Charlie D. Pruett, PhD., associate professor of Gerontology and Introduction to Sociology professor at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas, and director of the Pruett Gerontology Center, felt the same at his university.

“My thought is that ring by spring (RBS) is a phenomenon known to Christian universities,” Pruett said. He continues to believe that it is a “social behavior brought into the universities and practice by subgroups within the universities and not officially promoted by the institution.”

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While the change in culture is more accepting towards sexual relationships outside of marriage, the Christian subcultures at private universities hold marriage as an important value. Pruett’s Introduction to Sociology class felt similar, continuing to say that while ring by spring may not have a religious motivation, there is a strong religious motivation to getting married.

“My observation is that [RBS] has become a value and norm of the social clubs at ACU,” Pruett continued. “Each new cohort that enters the clubs goes through a socialization process that transfers the values and norms to the next.”

Students around ACU feel the same way, noting in Pruett’s class that many of their friends at state universities did not know about RBS, while friends at other Christian universities find the practice running in full swing. As they get older, his students reported that friends and social club members ask them, “so when are you getting engaged?” Add that to the list of questions that stress seniors out along with “what do you plan on doing after college?” and, “where are you going to live when you turn the tassel?” And to those who are seniors and reading these questions, sorry about the stressful reminders…

USA Today also points out that military deployment may have a factor in it.

“During my first week of my senior fall semester, I got a call from my then-fiance saying he got orders to Hawaii,” said Kaydi Carrington, a senior at Bowling Green State University.

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So, what did they do? Moved up their wedding date and made it happen.

“The planning was a little stressful,” Carrington said. “But honestly, I was so focused on getting to marry my best friend, that I was so happy and remained semi worry-free.”

But is ring by spring a good thing to still practice?

For anyone that has been around the ring by spring phenomenon, it’s easy to see how it has both its good sides and bad sides.

“From a functional perspective, the practice is functional because it does promote marriage, which is a good for individuals, churches, and families,” Pruett stated.

Pruett might not see a decline happening for ring by spring anytime soon to match the national marriage decline, and warns about the risks involved with ring by spring, stating that “it could promote weakened marriages due to an unhealthy motivation for marriage,” as well as “promote lower self-worth among individuals who have ‘failed’ to achieve the social value of success when RBS is not achieved.”

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So whether you hear wedding bells or the bell towers at graduation, know that it’s okay whatever relationship path you choose. While ring by spring may be a thing at private Christian universities, it doesn’t mean anything. Say your congratulations to the happy couple, and scroll on past their photo, my friend. Scroll on.


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