Mark Dolliver: Takes on Marriage

On a slow news day, there’s nothing the media like better than stories about the demographic demise of the traditional family. It’s true that households with a married couple and kids are a declining proportion of the population. But a new report from the Census Bureau offers a corrective to the notion that married life has become more the exception than the rule.

Crunching data collected through 2004 on people age 15 and up, the report says 31 percent of men and 26 percent of women have never been married. By the time people reach the 35-39 bracket, though, the never-married figure has fallen to 20 percent for men and 16 percent for women. In the 40-49 bracket, it’s 14 percent for men and 12 percent for women.

Despite the rise in divorce over the years, 54 percent of men and 58 percent of women have been married just once. Of course, not all of them stayed married. Still, the number who’ve ever divorced isn’t as high as you might guess: 21 percent of men and 23 percent of women. The report shows the incidence of divorce peaking among older boomers, with 38 percent of men and 41 percent of women age 50-59 having ever divorced. However, many fewer of all 50-59s—16 percent of men, 19 percent of women—classified themselves as “currently divorced.”

In fact, among all men age 25-plus who’ve ever divorced, 52 percent are now married. The chart shows the marital status of women who’ve ever divorced, among whom more than half are now married or widowed. As you can gather, we’re much more a multiple-married people than a non-married people. Of first marriages that go bust, the average duration is about eight years. People who end up remarrying seem to recover pretty quickly from Marriage No. 1, as the median time between divorce and a second marriage is about three-and-a-half years.