Study: Barely Half of US Adults Are Married

Divorce Rate Is Still Stable, But Fewer Are Tying the Knot

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By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, JAN. 13, 2012 ( Shortly before Christmas, news came out that only 51% of all people over the age of 18 in the United States are married. The study of census data by the Pew Research Center showed that single parenthood, single households and cohabitation have become more popular.

The report also noted that new marriages in the U.S. declined by 5% between 2009 and 2010.

The median age at first marriage has also reached an unprecedented level, at 26.5 years for brides and 28.8 for grooms.

The turning away from marriage has affected all age groups, but the most severe decline is among young adults. Currently, only 20% of those aged 18 to 29 are married, compared with 59% in 1960.

Other Western countries have experienced a similar decline and the study cited a recent report by the United Nations that showed how in the last three decades of the 20th century female age at first marriage rose in 75 of the 77 countries studied.

The impact of the economy is not clear, according to the Pew report. It seems that the long-term changes don’t seem to be related to the state of the economy, with the drop in marriages persisting in both good and bad economic times.

Some of the postponement of marriage can be attributed to the higher numbers going to college, the study noted. So, in part, the decline could be partly due not to a rejection of marriage, but simply waiting longer.

Education levels are a major factor influencing marriage, with 64% of college educated adults marrying, compared with only 48% of those without a completed college degree. By contrast the marriage rate for the two groups was almost equal in 1960

Divorce has also played a part in reducing the numbers of those married, but divorce rates have stayed fairly stable in the last couple of decades and so this is not a cause behind the more recent decline in the marriage rate. In fact, while in 1960 only 15% of adults declared they had never been married, by 2010 this group now accounted for 28% of all those aged over 18.


Canada is also undergoing the same trend, as data released by Statistics Canada showed. The number of cohabiting couples grew at five times the rate compared to marriages between 2001 and 2006, according to a report by the Ottawa Citizen newspaper, published Dec. 16.

Those aged 25 to 29 accounted for nearly a quarter of de facto couples in 2006, a more than threefold increase compared to 1981.

When it comes to divorce, in October Canada’s Vanier Institute published a fact sheet showing that in 2008, there were 70,229 divorces in Canada. This was a decline of 4% compared to the previous year and a notable drop of 2/5 compared to 1987, the year following changes to divorce laws.

The institute Statistics Canada predicts that 40.7% of all marriages in 2008 will end in divorce by 2035. Moreover, while the 2008 divorce numbers were down compared to the late 80s they are higher than the rate in the mid-90s.

The decline in marriage comes as studies continue to show its importance for society. Another report released toward the end of the year was «The 2011 State of Our Unions,» by W. Bradford Wilcox of the National Marriage Project, University of Virginia, and Elizabeth Marquardt, of the Center for Marriage and Families, Institute for American Values.

They found that married parents are more likely than their childless peers to feel their lives have a sense of meaning and purpose. As well, married parents usually experience more happiness and less depression than parents who are unmarried.

At the same time, however, they also found that, although most young Americans say they would like to have two or more children, there is a growing share of young adults who believe a good marriage is personally unattainable, and more are having children outside of marriage.

Don’t give up

Meanwhile, in England, a senior High Court judge, Sir Paul Coleridge, has announced he is setting up a foundation to promote marriage. His aim is to reverse the «appalling and costly impact of family breakdown» on children and society at large, according to a report by the Times newspaper, Jan. 3.

«There are an estimated 3.8 million children currently caught up in the family justice system. I personally think that’s a complete scandal,» he said.

The importance of marriage and family life was recently stressed by Benedict XVI in his speech Monday to the Holy See’s diplomatic corps.

The family, based on marriage of a man and a woman is «the fundamental cell of every society,» he stated.

«The family unit is fundamental for the educational process and for the development both of individuals and states; hence there is a need for policies which promote the family and aid social cohesion and dialogue,» he insisted.

A task every more urgent as marriage declines more and more in many counties.

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