I was out of the country when the Pew Research Center released the latest report showing that the percentage of Americans who are married is now at a record low. I’ve just now had a chance to read the entire report.
The statistics on the decline of marriage are dramatic, and I’ll get to those later. What I found most interesting, though, did not appear until the very last paragraph of the report. As many of you know, I’m 58 and have always been single. When I tell other people that I love my single life (except for the singlism), sometimes they protest that I can’t really know that married life would not be better because I’ve never tried it.
That’s why the last paragraph of the latest Pew report was especially intriguing:
“A majority of adults who have never been married say that they want to get married (61%), compared with only 26% of adults who have ever been married but who are currently unmarried.”
More of the previously married Americans are divorced rather than widowed (14% compared to 6%) and those who split presumably had bad marital experiences. Rather than concluding that they simply married the wrong person and should now try for the right one, about three-quarters declare that they’d rather stay single.
Below are some of the other highlights from the report. Before you read them, see if you can guess what percentage of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 were married in the year 2010.
- The record low percentage of Americans who are married is 51% of those who are 18 and older. In 1960, the comparable figure was 72%.
- If you look at graphs of the marriage rate over the years, you will see a steady decline over the past half-century. What was remarkable about the most recent statistics is that the rate declined 5% between 2009 and 2010. That’s a huge drop for just one year.
- The decline in marriage has also occurred “in most other advanced post-industrial societies” and these declines “have persisted through good economic times and bad.”
- The median age at which men first marry (if they marry) is now up to nearly 29 (28.7, to be exact). For women, it is 26.5.
- Results of a United Nations report showed that the proportion of women between the ages of 44 and 49 who had always been single increased “in all developed nations between the 1990s and the 2000s.”
- Did you make your prediction about the percentage of 18-24 year olds who were married, as of the most recent report (for 2010)? If you guessed a number with more than one digit, you overestimated. Only 9% were married!
The Pew report generated the predictable fretting about the decline of marriage. Little by little, though, journalists are beginning to recognize the possibility that some single people actually like their single lives. Check out this Associated Press story, for instance. Unfortunately, that enlightened perspective is still the exception. I hope it will not take another half-century of marital decline for more people to recognize that living single is an entirely ordinary experience, and often one that is quite full and meaningful and rewarding.
Photo by Daniel Flower available under a creative commons license.