Marriage in the Twenty-First Century

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Marriage in the Twenty-First Century

Research consistently shows that marriage makes a dramatic impact on people’s happiness, health, longevity, and prosperity. 

As Bella DePaulo, PhD, a scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, points out, “People who marry get access to more than 1,000 federal benefits and protections, many of them financial.”1 

Yet despite incentives to do so, fewer Americans are getting married.

Olin College Professor of Computer Science Allen Downey studied data from the National Survey of Family Growth to analyze the age when women and men in the U.S. entered their first marriages, broken down by decade of birth.  Downey then ran projections for Millennials as they age.  The results suggest that women born in the 1980s and 1990s are not just getting married later; they are on pace to stay unmarried at rates substantially higher than previous generations.2

As Downey explains, “To me, the most surprising result is for women in their early 30s.  Between ages 30 and 34, their marriage rate has been close to zero, and much lower than in previous generations.”

The study also revealed that:

  • The percentage of women unmarried at age 23 has increased from 25 percent for women born in the 1940s to 81 percent for women born in the ‘90s.
  • The percentage of women unmarried at age 33 has increased from 9 percent for women born in the 1940s to 38 percent for women born in the ‘80s, and is projected to be 47 percent for women born in the ‘90s.
  • The percentage of women unmarried at age 43 has increased from 8 percent for women born in the 1940s to 17 percent for women born in the ‘70s, and is projected to be 36 percent for women born in the ‘90s.

The results for men are very similar:

  • At age 23, the percentage of men who have never married has increased from 66 percent for men born in the 1950s to 88 percent for men born in the ‘90s.
  • At age 33, the percentage of unmarried men has increased from 27 percent to 44 percent, and is projected to go to 50 percent.
  • At age 43, the percentage of unmarried men is about 17 percent for men born in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, but is expected to increase to 30 percent for men born in the ‘90s.

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