Pew Social Trends reports a record share of adult Americans have ever married as values, economics and gender patterns change. In 1960 1 in 10 adults had never married. Today that figure is 1 in 5.
Americans polled were divided over the value of marriage to society. Fifty percent said “society is just as well off it people have priorities other than marriage and children.” At the same time, 68% of those polled believe if a couple plans to spend their life together they should marry.
Part of the explanation for the “decline in marriage” is that young adults are choosing to delay marriage. Contraception in hand with women’s increased participation in full time careers means men and women prefer marrying later in life than in the past.
There is a racial divide. 36 percent of blacks have never married while 16 percent of whites have never married. At same time, 58% of blacks say “it is ‘very important’ that a couple legally marries if they plan to spend the rest of their lives together,” as opposed to 44% of whites.
A racial divide also emerged on the question of important characteristics in a spouse. While whites and blacks rated “someone with a steady job” as very important, 77% of blacks did so as opposed to 59% of whites. On the question of my spouse should have “at least as much education” 43% of blacks said this was very important while 23% of whites did.
There is a something of a gender divide as well. Women want a spouse with a steady job: 78% rate this as very important. Close to half of men, 46 percent, agreed “finding someone with a steady job is very important” in a marriage partner.
Pew and several other sources emphasized current economic conditions. Unemployment remains high, and especially high in some demographic groups. Much of those unemployed today are long term unemployed. In the language of the Fed, these may be scarred workers, workers who may never get the kinds of jobs they could have if their period of unemployment was short. Their skills are becoming dated. Or they are labeled unemployable because employers assume other employers learned something negative about them. Potential spouses appear to be putting great value on employability, and the best evidence is you have a steady job.
The average age at first marriage, on this analysis, is directly related the rate of unemployment.
The recession and slow recovery have led many young people to delay striking
out on their own and likely to delay marriage as well.
In the Pew survey, young adults disproportionately cited lack of financial security as their main reason for not getting married. But with recent data suggesting a hint of improvement for young people’s finances, it’s possible more of them will start walking down the aisle as well.