Marriage rate slumps to record low in US


FEWER AMERICANS are marrying than ever before, and married couples could soon become a minority, according to a report published yesterday by the Pew Research Center.

Though 72 per cent of Americans have been married at some time, only 51 per cent are married at present. This represents a profound change in the structure of US society. In 2000, 57 per cent of Americans were married; in 1960, the figure was 72 per cent. The marriage rate dropped 5 per cent last year alone.

The decline in the marriage rate is sharpest among young people, but extends to all age groups. Sociologists at Pew attribute the shift to the economic crisis and the fact that couples are marrying later.

In 1960, the median age was 20 for brides, 22 for grooms. It is now 26 for women and 29 for men. For every year that women delay marriage, the odds of divorce declines, said Stephanie Coontz, a historian of family life at Evergreen State College in Washington state.

According to the US Census Bureau, 7.5 million couples lived together without being married in 2010, a 13 per cent increase on the previous year. The economic crisis has forced people who can no longer afford to maintain separate homes to move in with partners.

Marriage rates are highest among college graduates (nearly two in three). Less than half of those with only a high-school diploma are married.

Wage stagnation is also a factor. “The incentive to get married – because you could rely on a man whose real wages would continue to rise, who would get a pension at the end of it – has been undermined as well,” said D’Vera Cohn, the senior writer of the Pew study.

In an apparent contradiction, nearly 40 per cent of Americans say marriage is obsolete, yet a majority of single people still say they would like to marry one day, Ms Cohn said.

Rising divorce rates are another factor, with children of divorced parents reluctant to follow their parents’ example. Forty per cent of US children are now born to single mothers. That rises to more than half among women who have not gone beyond high school.

School registration forms now provide separate address blanks for “Parent 1” and “Parent 2”. Many employers provide benefits for unmarried partners.

Rick Santorum, a father of seven, has made restoring families the central plank of his presidential campaign. Despite the issue’s popularity with evangelical Christians, he is sixth out of seven in the Republican race, polling at 3.5 per cent.