Thursday, April 30, 2020

Record Low Marriage Rate in the U.S.

The marriage rate has never been lower. We all had a hunch this was the case. Now we have the facts. In 2018, there were 2.1 million marriages in the United States—6.5 marriages per 1,000 population, the lowest rate going all the way back to 1900, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

The marriage rate has had its ups and downs over the years. It reached a peak of 16.4 marriages per 1,000 population in 1946, as couples eagerly tied the knot after the disruptions of World War II. For the next half century or so, the marriage rate bobbled between 10.9 at the highest and 8.4 at the lowest. Then something changed. In 2000, the rate fell to what was then an all-time low of 8.2 marriages per 1,000 population. By 2010, it was just 6.8, and in 2018 it fell to 6.5.

Number of marriages per 1,000 population for selected years, 1900 to 2018
2018: 6.5 (record low)
2010: 6.8
2000: 8.2
1990: 9.8
1980: 10.6
1970: 10.6
1960: 8.5
1950: 11.1
1946: 16.4 (peak)
1940: 12.1
1930: 9.2
1920: 12.0
1910: 10.3
1900: 9.3

Two factors explain the record low marriage rate. First, the majority of young men and women today go to college after graduating from high school. Many of them postpone marriage until they finish their schooling and establish a career. The median age at first marriage for both men and women has been rising almost every year for nearly a decade. In 2019, it was 29.8 for men and 28.0 for women. The all-time lows in median age at first marriage occurred in 1956—age 22.5 for men and 20.1 for women, according to the Census Bureau. Another reason for the low marriage rate is the greater acceptance of cohabitation, which has become the norm for young adults prior to marriage.

Will the marriage rate sink even lower? Probably. Social distancing regulations due to coronavirus are sure to postpone tens of thousands of weddings scheduled for 2020.

Source: National Center for Health Statistics, Marriage Rates in the United States, 1900–2018

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