In one of the most notorious stories every published about single women, Newsweek claimed that 40-year-old women who had never married were “more likely to get killed by a terrorist” than to ever get married. That was in 1986. Two decades later, they recanted.
Reliable statistics are available on that question, from the American Community Survey, and the Pew Research Center summarized the 2012 data a few years ago. Unsurprisingly, the likelihood that you will marry depends on your age.
For adults (both women and men) in the U.S. between the ages of 25 and 34 who had never been married, 71 out of 1,000 of them got married over a 12-month period.
For those between 35 and 44, 40 out of 1,000 got married.
For those between 45 and 54, 16 out of 1,000 got married.
For those 55 and older, 7 out of 1,000 got married.
If you are someone who wants to marry, you probably think about this in terms of the availability of potential marriage partners. With more people already married, there are fewer available for you to marry.
In the U.S., among adults between the ages of 25 and 29, only 1 in 3 is married. That jumps to just over half for adults between 30 and 34, then to just over 60% for people between 35 and 39. The marriage rate peaks at about two-thirds after that. The next big change comes between 75 and 84, when the rate drops back down to just over half. By 85 and older, the rate is down to what it was for adults between 25 and 29, about 1 in 3.
Percent of adults in the U.S. who are married, by age group (2017 data)
25-29 years old, 32.9 percent are married
30-34 years old, 52.9
35-39 years old, 62.4
40-44 years old, 66.5
45-49 years old, 66.6
50-54 years old, 65.2
55-64 years old, 65.7
65-74 years old, 65.1
75-84 years old, 54.3
85 and older, 33.1
You can read about possible reasons for not marrying among those who do want to marry just about anywhere. I like to pay attention to the single people who are typically ignored – those who love being single, and those who are not so sure at first, but who come to like single life.
When young adults cross the threshold of 30, and suddenly the number of people who are married goes from 1 in 3 to more than half, it can be difficult to realize that marriage isn’t for everyone. Many look to marry as a matter of course; they don’t even consider the possibility that single life may be a fulfilling life, and for them, maybe even a better life. In her memoir “No One Tells You This,” Glynnis MacNicol said that before she turned 40, “I’d never bothered to seriously question whether I actually wanted to be married with kids.”
With age, many people think more deeply about what they really want from life. They are more resistant to other people’s expectations about what they should want. People who might be inclined toward single life all along, if only there were more cultural supports for such a life, start to realize that single life really is the life for them. Others who are more ambivalent may have already built a fulfilling single life for themselves. Maybe they are still open to marriage, but their standards are higher. They are not going to marry just to play their assigned role in a cultural script.
That’s a good thing.