Shock: number of married couples hits record low

Shock: number of married couples hits record low December 15, 2011

Details, from the Washington Post:

The proportion of adults who are married has plunged to record lows as more people decide to live together now and wed later, reflecting decades of evolving attitudes about the role of marriage in society.

Just 51 percent of all adults who are 18 and older are married, placing them on the brink of becoming a minority, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of census statistics to be released Wednesday. That represents a steep drop from 57 percent who were married in 2000.

The statistics offer a snapshot in time, and do not mean the unmarried will remain that way. 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.

“I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want to get married someday,” said Kate Shorr, 30, a lawyer and lobbyist who until recently wrote a blog about her social life in Washington, A Single Girl Doing Single Things. “All of us want to meet that special person and marry, but there’s no real rush to do that. Especially in the career-driven society we have here. You don’t move to Washington, D.C., to get married, you move here for your career.”

The marriage patterns are a striking departure from the middle of the 20th century, when the percentage of adults who never wed was in the low single digits. In 1960, for example, when most baby boomers were children, 72 percent of all adults were married. The median age for brides was barely 20, and the grooms were just a couple of 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.”

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33 responses to “Shock: number of married couples hits record low”

  1. I don’t think it is just culturally optional. We have become a society of individuals — even the family is seen as overriding the freedoms of the individual and the ultimate push of subsidiarity without solidarity is leaving its mark in the destruction of all communities, including the family. We want to be gratified, we want to be pleasured, not to give love.

    There are good men and women who are single who want to be married, but cannot find someone because those around them follow the cultural individualism. They don’t find much help in churches because, for the most part, churches are not geared for the singles, to welcome them, to help them. They are alone, cut off, and ignored.

    This doesn’t include the financial burdens pushed upon people as they grow up — the kinds which also make people shun the idea of marriage because “I don’t want to burden someone with the debt I have.” Again, if we had a better understanding of debt, we might not think this way…

  2. Henry, we’ve had our differences, but here we are in mostly in agreement. The one place I might disagree is in you adults having more finacial burdens today. Life wasn’t easy for young adults at any time in history. Getting established is a difficult process. If anything, they are eased into independence at a later age.

  3. People don’t want to grow up. Perpetual children if you ask me, especially men. When the purpose of sex becomes gratification and entertainment, then marriage gets in the way.

  4. The last line of the piece is especially telling, and especially worrisome as well: “Nearly two in three college graduates are married now, compared with less than half who have a high school education.” In other words, we are witnessing not just a decline in marriage but a class-based “marriage gap.” And the alternative is not celibacy: it’s cohabitation, eventually leading to even larger numbers of lower-class children being raised in unstable, single-parent households. This can only increase the divide in America between the haves and have-nots, a gap that our social safety net is demonstrably incapable of closing. There is much good sense in Catholic teaching that the two-parent married family is the “vital cell” of any just society; as that family pattern breaks down, what results is greater social inequity, an unjust situation in which poor children are the primary victims.

  5. I get this feeling that the average Catholic does not fully understand the sacraments and the grace we receive from them (or even understand what grace is). The grace in the Sacrament of Marriage is a beautiful thing…

  6. For me “Marriage was mandatory” strikes me as a specifically Protestant, maybe also Jewish, notion. I don’t think of it as a Catholic one as such.

    For me the issue might be more that the “never-married” aren’t living the life of chaste non-married or even trying to do so. I don’t think there’s anything necessarily selfish in the single-life as such. It might be easier for a single person to go help AIDS patients in Africa or persecuted Christians in Iraq or Vietnam as they don’t have family commitments. Or just be a great Uncle or Aunt as I’d wish to do to some extent.

    I’m not saying I’m not selfish, I am more selfish than I’d like to be, but I think I can work on that whether or not I marry.

  7. It is probably worthwhile, for those interested, to look at the actual data from the Census Bureau on which this story is based. It can be found here:

    I did one small bit of computation, using the 2011 Excel spreadsheet found there. There were 243,858,000 people 15 and older considered. From that number I deducted those in the 15-17 and 18-19 age groups (although I know there are marriages in those age groups, they are very small). The resulting number was 222,974,000 people (of all marital statuses). Of that number, 14,236,000 are widows or widowers, or 6.3%. Now, those 6.3% aren’t married now, but they WERE, and so counting that 6.3% of the population among the non-married is not necessarily accurate. I did not look at the numbers for those who are divorced, but clearly, the divorced were once married and so this all goes to say, that the data is a bit more complex, and any interpretation needs to be more nuanced, than this news story in the Post has done.

    In the average ages for newlyweds given in 1960, it is also worth noting that economics has a huge part in that; a man who graduated high school in 1960 could get a job that paid a family wage; the fact is, that a man graduating college with a BA today is unlikely to get a job with a family wage; and so young people are taking longer to find jobs (both by career development and education), get some financial stability (since graduating college most usually means graduating with a mountain of debt), before they look to settle down. There are certainly cultural factors regarding maturity, religious commitment, etc. that factor in here, but it’s a situation that has multiple contributing factors

  8. Marriage is necessary for a healthy society, but it is not necessary for any given individual. So much in S. Thomas. The sharp decline of marriage, even in terms of raw numbers, over the last 50 years, is an unfolding disaster.

  9. The importance of marriage has waned with the interest in God in America, a no brainer, and no surprise in the devolution of our culture. It simply is no longer important, as we can now have kids and sex not only without stigma and a marriage license, but without love and committment.

    The bible SCREAMS of marriage, from beginning to middle, to end (Genesis, Song of Songs, Book of Revelation). Jesus also, and not by coincidence, chose a wedding to perfom his first public miracle. The whole meaning of life, of Christianity, is marriage, the final union with God for all eternity, marriage on earth being a fortaste of that great glory, (well, at least for the few left who take it seriously).

    Lastly, marriage is our cross for salvation through and for each other, but I doubt many, including Catholics, have a clue about that anymore.

  10. My wife and I were active in Marriage Encounter and associated with other Catholic programs to foster marriage, and while our experience with the couples was great our experience of support from the Diocese was rather on the negative side. While complaining about the lack of marriages, the diocese only allowed us one advertisement in their newspaper before a weekend. We were constantly urged to do more, but holding the weekend at a facility owned by the diocese became more and more difficult as costs rose and demands for deposits increased.

    Although we have ceased presenting weekends given the difficulties and the lack of response by couple too busy to spend a weekend working on their marriage, we still get a couple of calls a month asking when they can attend a weekend.

    And finally I ask when was the last time you heard prayers for either the vocation of marriage or for married couples in your church? I have spoken to our deacons and basically get an agreement that they are lacking, but nothing gets done.

    My experience is that the Church is doing almost nothing to promote marriage at the level of the faithful. And so marriages drop, vocations both to the priesthood and marriage, and I think as a result the number of abortions climbs along with other evils.

    I would have to say that in my experience the Church has ceased to really care about and support marriage, and we are seeing the results.


    Mike L

  11. Maybe Mike, but it works both ways. It’s prayful marriages that also hold up the priesthood and vocations.

    Are you also asking how many married couples pray for priests? It’s more powerful than most could ever imagine, despite a direct correlation between strong marriages and strong priesthood/vocations. I’m not sure, but I think it was Bishop Sheen from whom I learned of that strong and necessary connection.

  12. In the Archdiocese of Boston, the Cardinal definitely wants to promote marriage. I’m not sure how that gets translated into action “on the ground.” A diocesan bishop needs people to follow his direction if there are to be meaningful results.

    Catechesis is very important, and I think invocations for spouses in the Prayer of the Faithful should happen fairly regularly.

  13. What would you ask the Church to do to promote marriage? I’m willing to bet that those who attend are mostly married or on the path to marriage.

  14. Neither shocked nor surprised, this has been coming for some time. I don’t know what the percentage is in Massachusetts, but suspect married couples are already in a minority here or will be very soon. Paul VI was right a bout contraception; I has created a culture that will have sex but none of the responsibilities or commitments.

  15. We must pray for holy vocations to all states of life. This includes the married state. In our focus to pray for clerical and religious vocations, we forget/neglect to pray for all vocations. When we pray for such, holy vocations to religious and clerical life will flow from holy marriages. We still need to ask the Lord of the harvest to send laborers (holy laborers) into the field. Help God help the Church! Jesus was born into a holy marriage. And, Jesus’ first public miracle was performed at the wedding feast at Cana. That should tell us something not just about the sacrament of marriage, but also about the sanctity of the whole of married life and the family, the domestic church. Pray for holy vocations to all states of life.

  16. Mike L.
    Yes, dioceses closed and de-funded marriage offices starting in 1990. we also worked in many marriage ministries and watched the clerical dis- interest increase.. Catholics in mixed marriages feel that imposing a Catholic marriage on an unwilling partner is wrong and their family no longer cares anyway.
    My Archdiocese had 450 couples working in parish marriage preparation in 1980s. now the A/D has about 12 couples.
    No parish banns are announced anymore… so who cares. Deacons should step up to this crisis, Where are the parish programs to bring the sacrament to couples already civilly married.?? Group catechisis and grouped parish wedding ‘blessings’ is an answer.

  17. One thing that could be done is to restructure CCD/Religious Education. After confirmation (in the Boston area typically 9th/10th grade) the focus of religiious ed should be assuming adult responsibilities, and vocational awareness and the how to’s of exploring the clergy, religious life and marriage should be made an explicit and important part of the curriculum. What we don’t teach, isn’t learned.

  18. If people want to ask how to promote marriages in the Church, I can suggest several things:

    1) reach out to the singles, make sure they come and feel welcome and not oddballs for being alone at a liturgical service
    2) stop with all the “classes” and “marriage prep” stuff. It doesn’t really help. Look to history – when there were no such classes, marriages held, now, with them, they are falling apart and people are not going to the church. Do we wonder why? These classes are silly — they might be well intentioned, but they are silly for most couples. A good hour talk in preparation for the service with the priest is enough. Anything else is an imposition and will have people saying “no.”
    3) realize the solution is not more of the same

  19. For the lawyer who puts career above her personal life-perhaps she never heard the quote Supreme Court Justice Rehnquist gave at a college commencement: “nobody has inscribed on their tombstone ‘I should have spent more time at the office.’ “

  20. “..stop with all the “classes” and “marriage prep” stuff. It doesn’t really help.”
    Henry, I’m afraid you’re right. I have seen nothing over the years to indicate that this kind of thing is really doing much good, even though it is well-intentioned. For better or worse, we tend to learn what we live with. Our families of origin have a lot more influence on how we conduct our married lives than pre-marriage classes. If we could just get through to parents that “little pitchers have big ears” and “little eyes are watching”.

  21. Friscoeddie, you and I are in complete agreement on this from what you have posted here.

    The Catholic Church also has issues with families with the huge cost of education of Catholic children. My adult children so far have 3 in one family and 4 in the other and more are planned. The cost of each attending primary school is about $8,000 and there is no break for those with more kids which seems odd for a Catholic Church fostering married couples be totally open to God creating life. High school and university are even higher costs for Catholic education. If the mother desires to stay home with the children, this means one income.

    But this is not a Catholic problem, it is just disappointing how little attention is paid to the issue of marriage. Pre cana conferences are a joke in most cases. My son related to me that when they arrived for their first taste of the pre cana on a saturday morning, the speaker stood up and started with we know no one wants to be here and so we are going to try to rush things along and get out of here early.

    The real attack on marriage and our society in general of course started with seperating God from daily life by the court attack and it has continued with abortion and marriage between one man and one woman attacks. The huge growth of government has created havoc in ever increasing taxes and more should have been done in the tax code to give heavy rewards to married couples because of the importance as listed here of families to our society. The same is true of having large families and kids. There should be benefits in the tax code to those who are sending their kids to Catholic schools as this reduces the numbers in the public sector and I think vouchers make a lot of sense to give all parents choices for education.

    We have started a 20-30’s group and it has led over the last couple of years to several marriages where men and women find others who lead dedicated Catholic lives and who spend the time in these meetings learning more and also about each other. We tried to get diocese support but had no luck. Now we are bonding to form groups of parishes who want to foster things like this and want to share resources. We are forming a NFP organization for donations. We are also on a personal choice level witholding support for the diocese offices to be used here instead. They spend a lot on programs that when traced to their final destination are often at odds with and sometimes in dissent with Catholic teaching. Since this is a total lay operation, it does not come under the authority of the Bishop, but we have assured him it is solid on all Catholic teaching. Should changes be made into a more Catholic teaching friendly group in the diocese office, we can turn over to them what we have started.

  22. The bishop here has sent out a prayer for vocations which is said at every mass in the dioceses and in it is not only for priests, but also for religious and to those called to the vocation of marriage. Not sure how much time or effort will go toward the married vocation, but we are going hard after that here with our new group NFP.

  23. If you have a crap program, you can expect crap output. The pre cana courses are crap in most cases put on by those who do not want to be there. Another problem is that those candidates coming to the pre cana are not taught the full Catholic teaching or turned away from the Sacrament if they are obviously in a state of grave sin such as living together. The Church use to really go after you on many issues which where in outright dissent and would refuse to marry you. Now we live in the world of tolerance of anything and too many are weak kneed and afraid to confront those who make the Sacrament a sham. In effect, they are going in with assurances that the marriage can be annuled easily because it probably had not impact in grace anyway. Not only that, but when held with a mass and Eucharist, you have added further grave sin to this marriage as a starting point. In our parish, we are turning away about 30% who refuse to separate and go to reconcilliation and yet we are seeing our marriage numbers growing as other who take the matter seriously are coming here from all over town. We have our own pre cana which includes a full solid 4 week course with multiple tests along the way and full NFP program on top of that. I tried to get my son to come here to this parish, but his bride was set on her church which was her right and it is also a very good church. By the way, our marriages are holding firm so far and have been at this for over 15 years.

  24. Frankly I’m surprised and a little disappointed in the lot of you. None of the traditionalists whip-crackers have come forward to blame this on the gays! There was a time not so long ago when that point would have been raised by the third or fourth reply, at the most. Our stalwart conservatives are growing soft, and the libertine barbarians are pressing the advantage like Alaric’s Visigoths, waiting to sack and burn the last holdout of decency! 🙂

  25. Sorry, I don’t think a model of Pre-Cana as boot-camp/boards-exam is going to solve the problem either. The ones who will put up with that have already decided that they will do anything it takes, so in a way it is self-selection where you weed out heavily on the front end of the process. And some would say that isn’t entirely a bad thing, smaller purer Church and all that sort of thing. If that is where we want to end up.

  26. It seems the more “professional classes”, counseling, parapsychology, the more “training”, the worse our society gets. Sex ed: sky rocketing pregnancy, out of wedlock, abortion, etc.
    Marriage counseling: more divorces, less commitment.

    Go figure

  27. Since there is no longer as much social disapproval of sex before marriage, many figure there is no reason to make a long term committment via the marriage contract. Then there are those who came from families whose parents either spent all their time arguing and fighting but “stayed together for the kids” when they should have gotten divorced, or those whose parents did divorce so their view of marriage is most certainly not positive. Living together means it is easier to part—-emotionally may be not, but financially—probably.

  28. A lot of things play into the decision not to get married these days. For one, it’s damned expensive. A dirt cheap wedding is about five grand these days. Usually it’s twice that. It’s six months to a year of insane intensive planning. What do you get for all that? An industry full of parasitic salespeople who manipulate your emotions to upsell everything. A great party you’ll be too stressed to experience. A photo album which will be opened exactly twice: the day after the reception and again at your funeral. If the deal goes bad, you’re into lawyers for tens of thousands more.

    Not everybody wants to go down this road and I don’t blame them. My wife and I were together for a decade before we finally got married, and we did so primarily for the legal securities that will come in handy later in life – estate planning, and having someone dully authorized to “pull the plug” as my wife says so romantically! Still, I don’t regret the decision. It was a damned fancy pagan handfasting and the guests helped finance a nice little European honeymoon.

  29. Our pastor said in a homily on marriage, “If you don’t want to spend a lot of money, if perhaps you prefer a quiet wedding with just immediate family, come talk to me.” Then he went on to say that a lot of people think a wedding in the Church has to be a big expensive extravanganza, which isn’t the case; in fact he would prefer that it not be.
    My grandparents were married in the sacristy with immediate family. Of course that was Depression era; and the reason it was in the sacristy was because Grandpa was Lutheran. At least we’ve made a little progress in interfaith relations since then. But the amount of money we spend on the average wedding now isn’t progress, and it doesn’t add anything to the permanence of the marriage.

  30. Rudy, If one simply follows strong Catholic teaching including the gifts of the Encyclicals such as Theology of the Body and trains well with NFP, while also using various well proven tests, you can really accomplish a lot for those going into the sacrament and life of marriage with God. What you do not want to do is start out with knowingly supporting those in grave sin for these marriages are doomed as they will not have the benefit of the grace of the Sacrament abused by the presence of grave sin.

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