The Washington Post is reporting on a Pew Research Center analysis based on newly released census data which found just 51 percent of adults age 18 and older who are married. Down from 57 percent in 2000, this puts the number of married couples on the brink of becoming a minority in the U.S.
However, this doesn't necessarily mean that marriage is becoming as obsolete as it might seem.
"The statistics offer a snapshot in time, and do not mean the unmarried will remain that way," the Post states. "They are a byproduct of a steady increase in the median age when people first marry, now at an all-time high of older than 26 for women and almost 29 for men."
Still, the new numbers are startling compared to what they were in the 1960's when 72 percent of all adults were married. The mean age for brides was 20 and grooms were just a few years older.
“In the 1950s, if you weren’t married, people thought you were mentally ill,” said Andrew J. Cherlin, a Johns Hopkins University sociologist who studies families. “Marriage was mandatory. Now it’s culturally optional.”
The decline in marriage rates is steepest among young people, many of whom grew up during the 70's and 80's when high divorce rates decimated families.
“I come from divorced parents, and most of my friends do” said Kate Shorr, 30, a lawyer and lobbyist, whose father advised her to stay single until at least age 35. “It’s a matter of not wanting to rush into something, get in over our heads and make a mistake. A lot of us saw our parents make mistakes. We’re going to take our time and make sure we don’t make the same mistakes.”
Unfortunately, many are choosing cohabitation instead, seeing this as a "safe" first step to marriage. Last year saw a 13 percent jump in the number of unmarried couples living together, bringing the total number to 7.5 million U.S. households that are currently headed by unwed partners. This is in spite of multiple studies that found couples who live together before marriage are at a much higher risk of divorce than couples who wait until after the ceremony to move in together.
W. Bradford Wilcox, head of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, said marriage is fading fastest in communities with residents who have the least education.
“Half the births to high school-educated moms are out of wedlock,” he said. “Among that group, we’re at a tipping point. Marriage is losing ground among middle Americans. They were doing okay until the last decade or so, and now they’re the most at risk."
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