Marriage Declines

From NPR:

The share of all U.S. adults who are married has dropped to a record low 51 percent, according to a new report. If the trend continues, the institution will soon lose its majority status in American life.

The report being released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center finds new marriages dropped a sharp 5 percent last year, which is very likely related to the bad economy. Pew senior writer D’Vera Cohn says it fits with a larger trend.

“The most dramatic statistics to me are when you look at the share of younger adults who are married now compared with in the past. That’s really been where you’ve seen the big decline,” Cohn says.

Half a century ago, nearly 60 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds were married. Today, it’s just 20 percent. But the Pew report finds fewer married people across all age groups.

In their place: more singles, single parents, couples living together — many having children without marrying. In fact, some 40 percent of all U.S. births are now to unmarried mothers. But the driving force in the dropping marriage rate? People who do tie the knot are waiting longer than ever.

The Pew report finds the median age when people finally walk down the aisle is at an all-time high — 26 for women and nearly 29 for men. And it’s higher still for the college educated.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Fish

    Waiting until you get older to tie the know is not an enemy of marriage but a friend.

    And we would cut the divorce rate if we could somehow persuade passionate teenagers that they are not thinking with their brains when they decide to get married at 18. Does abstinence education not play a role here?

  • Mike

    There are several other factors which add to the number of people waiting to get married:

    1. The Al Gore Wannabes: A generation ago, those who approached age 60 would not have thought about divorce. They knew they’d probably only live a few more years. Now, unhappy married people approach 60 with the knowledge that they may live another 30 years. The numbers getting divorced in their 60s is at the highest levels ever.

    2. The Delayed Clock: We used to fear being too old to have children. Now, we read of women in their 60s bearing young and it isn’t as much of an impetus to tie the knot as it used to be.

    3. Narrowing the Wage Equality Gap: Certainly, we’re not there yet, but women’s wages each year get closer to the wage men earn for the same job. Those motivated to marry at any age to guarantee financial security don’t have as high a motivation as they used to. I wonder if this recession will change that.

  • Robert

    Could our understanding of marriage be at fault? We define it in the terms adopted by the state, rather than as a relationship. The result is, some celebrity who gets married – possibly for the publicity – and then divirced a few weeks later, is ‘married’, at least for the duration, while a couple who’ve been living faithfully together for thirty years aren’t. It’s ridiculous.

  • Jim

    Correlates with drops in affiliation across the board…church membership, civic organizations, neighborhood involvement….seems like people don’t want any commitments in their lives, especially if the ‘goods’ associated with those commitments can be gotten easy enough without the burden of a commitment.

  • Spencer

    I’m gay and I’m not even allowed to get married in my state. :(

  • JohnM

    Fish #1 – You’re right about marriage age, problem is the only thing people are WAITING to do is make a formal committment.

    Jim #4 – Good point. Are there still “goods” associated with entering into and staying in a marriage? Any peculiar to The Church?

  • Val

    @Spencer#5 – I live in Canada, marriage has been legal in my province for almost a decade, and nationally for about 6 or 7 years – we are already below 50% for marriage, so legalizing gay marriages didn’t bring the percentages up.

  • Kenny Johnson

    I have quite a few 30-something Evangelical friends are also single — so its not just co-habitation that’s driving down the numbers.

    I think there’s just been a shift to starting adulthood later. I didn’t get my BA until I was 27 — the same year I got married and had my son when I was 31.

  • Joshua Wooden

    Fish #1: Waiting to late 20’s/early 30’s to get married may decrease the chances of divorce, but it dramatically increases the chances of having sex before marriage, which is why young people are encouraged to marry. The problem isn’t necessarily age or passion (many of my friends’ parents have divorced and they married in their late 20’s), it’s lack of commitment and a culture that makes it acceptable to divorce when things get hard.

  • Joshua Wooden

    And I’m with Kenny – adulthood starts later, and adolescence is encouraged by the culture (media) and sometimes even our parents.

  • JohnM

    Kenny #8 – “I have quite a few 30-something Evangelical friends are also single — so its not just co-habitation that’s driving down the numbers.” Are any of your Evangelical friends among the co-habiting? Hope not, but I wouldn’t be suprised. I do think you’re right, it’s not JUST co-habitation that’s driving down the numbers.

    Joshua #10 – I’m halfway with you and Kenny, true (perpetual)adolescense is encouraged by our culture. However, I’m not so sure I would agree “adulthood starts later” objectively speaking so much as many adults live in denial, and may or may not pay the consequences. But somebody will.

  • Joshua Wooden

    @ JohnM: Fair enough.

    General question to no one in particular: what should our response be as Christians? Should young people be encouraged to marry younger? One article published in CT a couple years ago made that very case, and you can find it here:

  • Taylor

    I think we should encourage Christians to at least be open to the possibility of marrying younger. My wife and I were both 5 years under the baseline median when we got married, and now, after 5 years, we have two boys at an age when most college eduacated people aren’t even getting married.

    One thing we’ve noticed about our situation, and among friends who have made similar choices, is an increased flexibility. Rather than marriage being a commodity that we put off until it was affordable, marriage was a fact of life that forced us to adapt and survive or throw in the towel.

    Obviously all marriages have challenges. At times delaying marriage in favor of stability can minimize those challenges initially in a way that does future damage to marriages.

    The solution? Teach those that marry young to hang on for dear life, and teach those that marry older that they’re going to have to do the same at some point.

  • Hector

    Re: And we would cut the divorce rate if we could somehow persuade passionate teenagers that they are not thinking with their brains when they decide to get married at 18. Does abstinence education not play a role here?

    Good point, I do think abstinence education is definitely at fault. To get married bevause you would like to have sex is a really bad idea.

    The only problem with people marrying later is that (for women) it decreases the number of fertile years when you can have children. I think it makes a lot of sense, for women, not to marry too late. Of course, sometimes you don’t find the right person till a bit later in life, but if you do have the opportunity to marry earlier rather than later, it can definitely help with your chances to have children.

  • Hector

    It should be noted that in 19th century England and Ireland, people (men, at least) got married later than they do today. Early to mid 30s, for men. Northern Europe has traditionally had later ages of marriage than North America, and we shouldn’t treat the mid-century American experience as something typical.

  • JonB

    Re: Taylor #13 – I’m one of those unmarried Christian 30-yr-olds. I’m also enjoying the flexibility and freedom that not having a wife or children offers. It’s a lot easier to say “Here I am, Lord. Send me.” without having to consider the consequences to my family.