In the U.S. and in other nations around the world, fewer people have been marrying and more have been staying single. When people do marry, they are getting around to it at an increasingly older age. As a consequence, the decline in the proportion of married people and the surge in the proportion of single people is especially evident among the young.
University of Maryland sociologist Philip N. Cohen believes that along with the continued decrease in the rate of marriage, there may well be an increase in the stability of marriage. Fewer young people will marry, but when they do, their marriages may be more likely to last.
This isn’t just his hunch. Professor Cohen analyzed rates of divorce between 2008 and 2017. The measure he used was the number of divorces in any given year for every 1,000 married women. (That doesn’t mean he’s only interested in women. Social scientists who study these things typically use this as a measure of divorce more generally.) He found that there was a significant drop in the divorce rate over the course of that decade.
When he looked at the trends separately for people of different ages, Cohen found that the divorce rate was declining only for the youngest people, under the age of 44.
Age wasn’t the only factor that mattered. For example, averaging across everyone (regardless of age), Cohen found that people in their first marriage were less likely to divorce than people who had been married before. People who were older when they got married were also less likely to divorce than those who married when they were younger. And people who had been married longer were more likely to stay married.
Next, Cohen looked at the characteristics of the women who were newly married during the time period in question, 2008 through 2017. He found that some of the characteristics associated with lower divorce rates were increasing over that time period. For instance, the age at which women got married increased between 2008 and 2017. The proportion of marriages that were first marriages increased, too.
Because newly married women increasingly have the characteristics associated with more enduring marriages, Cohen believes that in the future, although marriage may continue to be rarer, it may also be more lasting. (He is not claiming to make precise predictions, though.)
Cohen thinks it is noteworthy that divorce rates are declining among the young at a time of growing acceptability of divorce. It is not just divorce that is becoming less stigmatized – so, too, is living single. That’s something I’ve been advocating for decades.
Being single – for those who are single again as well as those who have always been single – should be a respected and valued way to live. For some people, the single at heart, living single is how they live their best, most fulfilling, and most meaningful life. When single life is a genuine and even celebrated option, then people who are interested in marrying can do so for the right reason – because they want to, and not because they running scared, away from a stigmatized single life.
When people get to choose the life that is right for them, instead of feeling like they have to marry, then fewer people will marry. But because more people will be marrying for positive reasons, their marriages will be more likely to last.