Downward trend: 51% of American adults are married

In the continuation of a sizable demographic shift over the last few decades, fewer adult Americans than ever before are married:

Barely half of all adults in the United States—a record low—are currently married, and the median age at first marriage has never been higher for brides (26.5 years) and grooms (28.7), according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census data.

In 1960, 72% of all adults ages 18 and older were married; today just 51% are. If current trends continue, the share of adults who are currently married will drop to below half within a few years. Other adult living arrangements—including cohabitation, single-person households and single parenthood—have all grown more prevalent in recent decades.

The Pew Research analysis also finds that the number of new marriages in the U.S. declined by 5% between 2009 and 2010, a sharp one-year drop that may or may not be related to the sour economy…

It is beyond the scope of this analysis to explain why marriage has declined, except to note that it has declined far less for adults with college educations than among the less educated. Some of the increase in the median age at first marriage over the long term can be explained by the rising share of young adults enrolled in college, who have tended to marry later in life; recently, there are indications that adults who are not college graduates also are marrying later. Fallout from the Great Recession may be a factor in the recent decrease in newlyweds, although the linkage between marriage rates and economic hard times is not entirely clear.

There are a number of charts here regarding more specific bits of information. The most interesting statistic here, in my opinion: marriage is affected by educational status.

What the article doesn’t talk about is what the alternative to marriage is or is becoming. Single-parenthood? Cohabitation? Fewer long-term relationships? This seems like a particularly interesting issue for millennials – what will their future families and relationships look like?

I would be interested to hear what the younger generations say most influences their decisions in this area. Parents? Friends? Public role models or media figures? Changing narratives about what to expect in marriage?

This is another reminder that marriage and family patterns change over time.

4 thoughts on “Downward trend: 51% of American adults are married

  1. Pingback: Making sure the graph of mean age of marriage covers a broad enough period of history | Legally Sociable

  2. Pingback: Sociologist says expectations for marriage are too high | Legally Sociable

  3. Pingback: When will more romantic comedies reflect living alone, cohabitation, and women getting more education than men? | Legally Sociable

  4. Pingback: Single person household, harder to buy a home | Legally Sociable

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