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Marriage Rates at All-Time Low

Macdara MacColl, CTAMFT Editor

Fewer Americans are married today than at any other time in our nation’s history. If the current trajectory continues, married adults will be a minority in a few years, according to a new study released last month by the Pew Research Center.

Pew Research - Marriage

The causes for the decline are not entirely clear. A significant 5% drop in marriage rates in 2010 over 2009 may have to do with the economy. But many of the trends clearly started before the country’s current economic woes. In the 1960s, 72% of all adults were married; today only 51% of adults are. The age of first marriage has been creeping upwards for decades. The median age for first marriage in 1960 was 20.3 for women and 22.8 for men. The current median age for first marriage is now 26.5 for women and 28.7 for men. This means that over the past 50 years, Americans have added almost a decade of single living to their developmental cycle. In addition to young Americans, marriage rates also have heavily declined among less educated, less wealthy Americans. Possibly marriage is not being abandoned, just delayed.

Attitudes toward marriage are also shifting. The Pew Research Center has been asking Americans about marriage attitudes and finds mixed results. Almost 40% of Americans said marriage is becoming obsolete, according to a Pew Research survey in 2010. But in the same survey, most people who had never married said they would like to tie the knot someday. And the divorce rate, which climbed in the 1960s and 1970s, has now leveled off.

As marriage and family therapists, the current conjugal trends underscore the need for conversation among us. Do we consider ourselves therapists for marriage or, more generally, relationship? Does our profession’s very name become antiquated in a country in which less than half of the adults are married? And what are our examined and unexamined assumptions about the meaning of marriage and its role in family? If your clinical clientele is drawn from younger, less affluent Americans, have you noticed the shift away from marriage?

We invite CTAMFT members to join the conversation on our Facebook page and share your insights about the state of marriage in America today and how it affects your practice.


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