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Marriage Rate at Record Low

Average age of first-time brides and grooms rises six years since 1960
  • January 23 2012

Fewer wedding bells are ringing. Barely half of all American adults are currently married, a record low, and those that are getting hitched are doing it at an older age.

According to U.S. Census data, the overall percentage of adults who were married declined to 54.1 percent in 2010 from 57.3 percent in 2000. To put the number in greater context, in 1960, 72 percent of adults were married. Separate Census data analysis from the Pew Research Foundation found that the number of new marriages in the U.S. declined by 5 percent between 2009 and 2010, a sharp one-year drop

As the marriage rate has declined, the age of first-time brides and grooms has increased. In 2010, the median age at first marriage increased to 28.2 for men and 26.1 for from 26.8 and 25.1 in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In 1960, the first-time marriage ages were 22.8 for men and 20.3 for women.

According to Pew, the declines have occurred among all age groups, but are most dramatic among young adults. Today, just 20 percent of adults ages 18 to 29 are married, compared with 59 percent in 1960. And while just more than half of adults are currently married, a higher share—72 percent—have been married at least once. But this “ever married share” is still sizably lower than the 85 percent rate from 1960.

Pew researchers have found that public attitudes about marriage are mixed. A 2010 Pew survey indicated that four-in-ten Americans say marriage is becoming obsolete. Still, the same survey found that most people who have never married (61 percent) would like to someday.

While the Pew analysis did not pinpoint the reasons for the decline in the marriage rate, it did indicate that it has declined far less for adults with college educations than among the less educated. “Some of the increase in the median age at first marriage over the long term can be explained by the rising share of young adults enrolled in college, who have tended to marry later in life,” the Pew paper notes. “Recently, there are indications that adults who are not college graduates also are marrying later.”


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