Compared to 1960 when 72% of all adults ages 18 and older were married, this represents a new low for the U.S., and, according to the report, is representative of most other “advanced post-industrial societies.”
“If current trends continue,” senior writer D’Vera Cohn advises, “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 report also reveals that the number of adults who have never married has almost doubled, from 15% to 28%, since 1960, and that the median age at first marriage has risen from 20.3 to 26.5 for women, and from 22.8 to 28.7 for men.
“Public attitudes about the institution of marriage are mixed,” Cohn said. “Nearly four-in-ten Americans say marriage is becoming obsolete, according to a Pew Research survey in 2010. Yet the same survey found that most people who have never married (61%) would like to do so someday.”
The 2010 survey in fact showed that despite the rising figures for cohabitation, divorce, and single parent child rearing, 95% of Americans under 30 plan to get married. “Marriage, while declining among all groups, remains the norm for adults with a college education and good income, but is now markedly less prevalent among those on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder,” the Pew report stated, explaining that those in this less-advantaged group are as likely as others to want to marry, but place a higher premium on economic security as a condition for marriage.
The current survey found that nearly two-thirds of adults with college degrees (64%) are married; just under half of those with some college education (48%) or a high school education or less (47%) are married.
Looking at marriage by age group, the survey found that the decline in the proportion of currently married adults is most dramatic for the young.
Only 9% of adults ages 18-24 were married in 2010, compared with 45% in 1960. Among adults ages 25-34, fewer than half (44%) were married in 2010, compared with 82% in 1960. Although most Americans in their mid-30s onward are married, the proportions have declined notably since 1960.
The study also looked at marriage statistics by race, finding that more than half (55%) of whites are married, a decline from 74% in 1960. Among Hispanics, 48% are married, compared with 72% in 1960. Among blacks, only 31% are married, compared with 61% in 1960.
“Some differences between the groups can be explained by the younger age structure of Hispanics and blacks, compared with whites,” the researchers proposed.
The Pew Research analysis also found that the number of new marriages in the US declined by 5% between 2009 and 2010, a sharp one-year drop that the researchers note may or may not be related to the “sour economy.”
“The United States is by no means the only nation where marriage has been losing “market share” for the past half century. The same trend has taken hold in most other advanced post-industrial societies, and these long-term declines appear to be largely unrelated to the business cycle. The declines have persisted through good economic times and bad,” the researchers conclude.
The full text of the Pew Research Center report is available here.