The Gospel Coalition

This week Americans celebrate National Marriage Week, a collaborative campaign to strengthen individual marriages, reduce the divorce rate, and build a stronger marriage culture. Here are nine things you should know about marriage in America:

1. The median ages of people when they first marry (as of 2010) was 28.9 for men and 2010 for 26.9 women.
avg-age-marriage

2. The marriage rate in the U.S. is currently 31.01, the lowest it's been in over a century, according to the National Center for Family and Marriage Center at Bowling Green State University. That equals roughly 31 marriages per 1,000 unmarried women. In 1920, the marriage rate reached its peak at 92.3. Since 1970, the marriage rate has declined by almost 60 percent. In real terms, the total number of marriages fell from 2.45 million in 1990 to 2.11 million in 2010.

3. Most people now live together before they marry for the first time. An even higher percentage of divorced persons who subsequently remarry live together first. And a growing number of persons, both young and old, are living together with no plans to marry eventually.

4. Unmarried cohabitation—the status of couples who are sexual partners, not married to each other, and sharing a household—is particularly common among the young. It is estimated that about a quarter of unmarried women age 25 to 39 are currently living with a partner and an additional quarter have lived with a partner at some time in the past. More than 60 percent of first marriages are now preceded by living together, compared to virtually none fifty years ago.

NUMBER OF COHABITING, UNMARRIED, ADULT COUPLES OF THE OPPOSITE SEX, BY YEAR, UNITED STATES
unmarried

5. The average age for childbearing is now younger than the average age for marriage. By age 25, 44 percent of women have had a baby, while only 38 percent have married. Today, only 23 percent of all unmarried births are to teenagers. Sixty percent are to women in their twenties. Today, the average woman bearing a child outside of marriage is a twenty-something white woman with a high school degree.

6. Marriage has shifted from being the cornerstone to the capstone of adult life. No longer the foundation on which young adults build their prospects for future prosperity and happiness, marriage now comes only after they have moved toward financial and psychological independence.

7. The national divorce rate is almost 50 percent of all marriages. But for many people, the actual chances of divorce are far below 50/50. The "close to 50 percent" divorce rate refers to the percentage of marriages entered into during a particular year that are projected to end in divorce or separation before one spouse dies. Such projections assume that the divorce and death rates occurring that year will continue indefinitely into the future—an assumption that is useful more as an indicator of the instability of marriages in the recent past than as a predictor of future events.

8. The presence of children in America has declined significantly since 1960, as measured by fertility rates and the percentage of households with children. Other indicators suggest that this decline has reduced the child-centeredness of our nation and contributed to the weakening of the institution of marriage. It is estimated that in the mid-1800s more than 75 percent of all households contained children under the age of 18. One hundred years later, in 1960, this number had dropped to slightly less than half of all households. In 2011, just five decades later, only 32 percent of households included children. This obviously means that adults are less likely to be living with children, that neighborhoods are less likely to contain children, and that children are less likely to be a consideration in daily life.

9. If a person has been to college, has an annual income over $50,000, is religious, comes from from an intact family, and marries after age 25 without having a baby first, their chances of divorce are very low. Here are some percentage-point decreases in the risk of divorce or separation during the first ten years of marriage, according to various personal and social factors: Annual income over $50,000 (vs. under $25,000) (-30); Having a baby seven months or more after marriage (vs. before marriage) (-24); Marrying over 25 years of age (vs. under 18) (-24); Family of origin intact (vs. divorced parents) (-14); Religious affiliation (vs. none) (-14); College (vs. high school dropout) (-25).

 

Other posts in this series:

9 Things You Should Know About Black History Month


9 Things You Should Know About the Holocaust

9 (More) Things You Should Know About Roe v. Wade


9 Things You Should Know About Poverty in America


9 Things You Should Know About Christmas

9 Things You Should Know About The Hobbit

9 Things You Should Know About the Council of Trent


9 Things You Should Know About C.S. Lewis

9 Things You Should Know About Orphans

9 Things You Should Know about Halloween and Reformation Day

9 Things You Should Know About Down Syndrome

9 Things You Should Know About World Hunger

9 Things You Should Know about Casinos and Gambling

9 Things You Should Know About Prison Rape

9 Things You Should Know About the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing

9 Things You Should Know About the 9/11 Attack Aftermath

9 Things You Should Know About Chemical Weapons

9 Things You Should Know About the March on Washington

9 (More) Things You Should Know About Duck Dynasty

9 Things You Should Know About Child Brides

9 Things You Should Know About Human Trafficking

9 Things You Should Know About the Scopes Monkey Trial

9 Things You Should Know About Social Media

9 Things You Should Know about John Calvin

9 Things You Should Know About Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence

9 Things You Should Know About the Supreme Court's Same-Sex Marriage Cases

9 Things You Should Know About the Bible

9 Things You Should Know About Human Cloning

9 Things You Should Know About Pornography and the Brain

9 Things You Should Know About Planned Parenthood

9 Things You Should Know About the Boston Marathon Bombing

9 Things You Should Know About Female Body Image Issues

 


Comments:

[…] Nine things you should know about marriage in America […]

[…] an article outlining nine things you need to know about marriage in America. I thought the ninth was fascinating, but it shouldn’t be read that those without […]

Steve Cornell

February 14, 2014 at 12:48 PM

Here is a collection of common reasons given for divorce:

- Lack of commitment (73%)
- Too much arguing (56%)
- Infidelity (55%)
- Marrying too young (46%)
- Unrealistic expectations (45%)
- Lack of equality in the relationship (44%)
- Lack of preparation for marriage (41%)
- Abuse (29%)

(Percentages are affected by those who gave multiple reasons)

A prominent sociologists suggested that the majority of divorces occur within 10 years of the time of marriage because “most people who are unhappily married figure that out quickly” (Andrew Cherlin, sociology professor, Johns Hopkins University).

Although there is likely more to most divorce decisions than happiness, there is little doubt that our culture has elevated personal happiness in unrealistic and deeply misguided ways. This likely contributes to pervasive divorce practices common to our nation.

When people entertain unrealistic expectations for gregariousness they will be more superficial and more susceptible to depression. As a culture, it seems that we no longer have room in our lives for normal sadness and we do not understand the role it plays in character formation (and marriage building).

Marriage is not supposed to make you happy; it’s meant to make you married. People must understand that marriage is not about a feeling of love but an agreement to love. It takes work for marriage to work. Many marriages would improve if husbands and wives placed a greater value on the commitments they made in their wedding vows.

“Commitment is having a long-term view of the marriage that helps us not get overwhelmed by the problems and challenges day-to-day. When there is high commitment in a relationship, we feel safer and are willing to give more for the relationship to succeed” (Dr. William H. Doherty).

JohnM

February 14, 2014 at 10:09 PM

Lack of commitment is kind of a given. Whose lack of commitment is cited as the reason for seeking a divorce though? If it's the one seeking the divorce referring to the other spouse - ironic.

I wonder how much of pre-marriage counseling involves some very candid discussion of expectations? Some very honest explanations to the other party as to why one wants to be married at all, to anyone, in the first place? Honest answers, if/when they are forthcoming, might head off a few divorces by heading off the marriage in the first place. That's not a bad thing. However, Steve truly you are correct when you say " marriage is not about a feeling of love but an agreement to love".

The Love Song of Love Songs | Dr Tim White

February 14, 2014 at 07:27 AM

[…] Nine Things You Should Know About Marriages in America at gospelcoalition.org […]

[…] Written by Joe Carter over at The Gospel Coalition site, the article is 9 Things You Should Know about Marriage in America. […]

[…] From Joe Carter: […]

JohnM

February 12, 2014 at 07:53 AM

Lori,
I question the notion of the economic outlook for people in their 20s being so dire nowadays. Not that I think it is so easy, but the thing is , it never has been for people starting out. I was one of those people who graduated with a not particularly useful degree, then out of economic necessity (as in unemployed and broke)moved in with my parents, for about five months. That was over thirty years ago, not recently. I never have worked in the field of my college major. All in all I've had it much easier economically than my parents, who married young, and stayed married for just over 60 years until my father's death. Now they were poor starting out. Their parents didn't have the easiest time of things either. I know of other stories that like mine, and like my parents, illustrate that it's possible to have an exaggerated notion of how different and more difficult things are for young people now compared to previous generations. When it comes to explaining current marriage and divorce statistics I don't doubt economics is a factor (always has been, always will be) but there's something else going on besides just economic conditions.

[…] 9 Things You Should Know About Marriage in America […]

[…] “9 Things You Should Know About Marriage in America,” The Gospel Coalition […]

buddyglass

February 11, 2014 at 12:51 PM

Also, the link in #5 regarding age at first child-bearing also involves a median value and not a mean (average).

buddyglass

February 11, 2014 at 12:47 PM

Small correction: the graph in #1 shows median age at first marriage not mean (average). In your description of the graph you say "average".

[…] is an excellent piece that run in The Gospel Coalition today. Point number SIX particularly caught my eye, “Marriage has shifted from being the […]

Ryan

February 11, 2014 at 11:40 AM

I also find #1 incredibly interesting. Age of marriage is often portrayed as a gradual increase, with every year seeing more and more people getting married at an older age. In reality the age of marriage in the 1890s is closer to what it is today than what it was in the 50s - at least for men.

It also seems that a decline in ages of marriage is tied in with the World Wars - particularly the second one.

Ryan

February 11, 2014 at 11:31 AM

It's worth noting that the 50% divorce rate is a flawed statistic. I believe it was arrived at by comparing the amount of marriages in a given year vs the amount of divorces in a given year - which doesn't give a very good overview at all (e.g. If a bunch of people planning on getting married in late 2001 pushed their wedding back to early 2002 due to complications caused by 9/11, 2001 would have seen an increase in divorce rates, despite the fact that the amount of people getting divorced didn't actually increase).

Divorce rates have actually been on a steady decline since the late 80s, though whether that's because marriages are holding together better or because less people are getting married is anyone's guess. Perhaps it could even be that separated couples are less likely to divorce simply due to the increasingly painful legal headache that is involved.

Lori

February 11, 2014 at 10:36 AM

The problem with that is that it's increasingly unrealistic. The economic outlook for people in their 20s is pretty dire, even if they go to college. By the time a person is established in life, they could easily be in their mid-30s. And it's just extremely unlikely that we'll see large numbers of people wait until they are in their mid-30s to have sex. I honestly don't think that's a bad thing, because I don't think we are designed to routinely delay marriage and sex for two decades after we go through puberty.

We need to make it easier for young people to marry and start families. We need jobs that pay a real family wage available to young people willing to work hard. We need societal support, rather than scorn, for people who choose not to delay marriage and childbearing. And we need to acknowledge that there are alternative paths to the college-career-marriage path that might make sense for people.

I married after graduating college, and had my first child at 25. There were benefits to this, like I have a graduate degree that I use to earn a decent part-time income with a very flexible schedule. But, when I'm ready to return to work full-time, I'm re-entering a field that, after more than a decade at home with my kids, I'm not particularly interested in and doesn't have many jobs. I have friends who married and had their children in their early 20s, and then went to college after their kids were all in school. They didn't have some of the part-time employment opportunities while their kids were growing up that my degree opened up for me, but they were able, when they were ready to start a full-time career, to choose a career based on their adult interests and the realities of the current job market. There's pros and cons to both paths, but I do think more people, especially women who know they want to have kids, should consider the option of delaying college until after their children are older, rather than feeling like they must do college first, just to check it off a list.

Joe J.

February 11, 2014 at 10:26 AM

The statistics are interesting and, in some cases, disturbing; for example, the rate of out-of-wedlock births among adults. At the same time, the church's response has often been anything but helpful. Some in the church have resorted to legalism or shaming tactics; others have put forth new teachings that delay of marriage is supposedly sinful. Meanwhile, far too many leaders have failed to live up to their own marital vows.

The church needs to be more proactive than reactive in addressing these issues. As an example, I'd like to see leading Christians stand up to modern societal expectations that a college degree is necessary for a decent job and that one must go deep into debt in order to obtain that degree. Those expectations can have an adverse impact on marital prospects and subsequent childbearing decisions.

At the same time, the church should affirm marriage and family while not treating single adults as lesser members of the body of Christ. Something is seriously wrong when neither Jesus nor Paul would be considered qualified for leadership in many of today's churches solely due to their marital status.

Andrew Orlovsky

February 11, 2014 at 06:23 AM

Andy B, From more detailed studies. It seems that the young divorce rate is inflated due to shotgun weddings and that those who marry as virgins (even at a younger age) are very unlikely to divorce. I do think it is a good idea to complete college, have a good job, and be established in life before marrying as long as sexual sin is not added to that mix.

Andrew Orlovsky

February 11, 2014 at 06:15 AM

That is true Lori. I'm sure the vast majority of those who marry very young and then divorce were shotgun weddings, probably in many cases the divorced happened after the baby was born and the husband discovered that he was likely not the father. I have also read studies saying that people who marry as virgins are very unlikely to divorce and the likelihood of divorce increases with the number of sexual partners one had before marriage. Way too many young adults see the high divorce rates among people who marry as teenagers as an excuse to spend their 20s exchanged in primiscuous behavior. That is not smart.

Andrew Orlovsky

February 11, 2014 at 06:08 AM

If an individual truely was putting the Gospel first, your point about a mature signleness is valid. But I there are way too many "Christian" men who claim to pleasing God through their singleness while secretly engaged in sexual sin.

Also, I think R was saying we need to get rid of no-fault divorce. Divorce will still be legal in cases such as abuse. Very very few are advocating that America pass a law to make all divorces illegal. The fact that abuse does occur is no reason to swing to the complete other side of the pendulum, where marriage has become the only legal contract in which one party could completely violate without facing any repercussions. There is a huge middle ground between the two extremes.

[…] 9 Things You Should Know About Marriage in America (Gospel Coalition) […]

AndyB

February 10, 2014 at 12:14 PM

Sorry, I can't edit the above so continuing here...

According to point #9 treating marriage as the capstone is the best way to not get divorced.

Wait until you complete college, have a good job, and are established in life (25+ years of age) and your chances of divorce go way down.


Not saying it's the biblical way, just saying that's the stats.

AndyB

February 10, 2014 at 12:11 PM

Lori,

Except that point #9 flatly contradicts that conclusion.

Not disagreeing with the idea people shouldn't get married younger. But it greatly increasing chances of divorce according to point #9.

Phil

February 10, 2014 at 11:43 AM

"Marriage has shifted from being the cornerstone to the capstone of adult life."

Even many Christian parents raise their kids to think this way! They discourage marriage before both college and career are done, and having a kid (out of wedlock, natch) is merely a lamentable "oopise" of the modern life. This is how the GenX'ers (of which I'm one) want things, having been burned by 40 years of the American culture of divorce; both ours and our Boomer parents. Many churches accept as members professing Christians who have divorced for completely unbibilcal reasons, even when both ex's go to separate churches. No one bats an eye. (Full disclosure: I'm divorced and even I can't stand seeing this.) God help any pastor with the courage to speak out against this; he'll soon have a mob of pantsuit-clad offended mommies whipping up a whirlwind of pastor-ousting church politics. Don't believe me? Try it.

Between the 40 years of Evangelical feminization's war on men and manhood, and Evangelicals acceptance of elevating career over home and hearth, marriage really is no longer a foundation of any sort. Marriage is, at best, a lofty ideal that crumbles on the altar of pragmatism and self-realization psychology. Our parents' generation and the churches they've built only reinforce all this, not on paper but in practice. (The hypocrisy of what we say on paper/website vs. what we practice is a whole 'nuther topic, but suffice to say it only further undermines marriage as a foundation.)

Phil

February 10, 2014 at 11:24 PM

"That's because we have made divorce too easy."

Ohfergodsakes. 100% iron-clad proof you've never been through one and have no idea what you're talking about. Legal costs, court calendar battles, alimony issues, child support, painful custody transfers, family splits, division of assets... ah the list goes on, and in many (most?) cases it adds up to one drawn out, expensive headache that darn near consumes your life for a while. Emotionally and spiritually it's like someone turned your brain to "The Divorce Channel" and threw away the remote for a year or two. Add to all that the ignorant and insensitive clowns who go around telling us "how easy" it is/was and that just make it all worse by robbing us of the reality of the pain that people go through. I wanna wretch when I see people -- you know, like the ones who say divorce is "too easy" -- do the smug shoulder shrug thing when someone going through a divorce leaves the church, and then mutters something about how "he/she showed their true colors by leaving." Ugh.

Justin Davito

February 10, 2014 at 11:08 AM

Thanks for sharing this. I do wish I could say I am shocked by this. Sad direction our culture is heading.

-Justin

Lori

February 10, 2014 at 09:30 AM

I think #6 is perhaps the most important point. The idea that you need to be mature, independent, and have it all together before you marry is, I think, very common and pretty dangerous.

Maturity is not something that just happens, especially not once we leave childhood. As we get older, maturity comes more from experience than age. I have known some incredibly mature people in their late teens and early twenties, and they are generally people who had experiences--having a child, caring for a dying parent, taking on the responsibility for younger siblings--that matured them fast. I've also known incredibly immature people in their late 30s and 40s, and they are people who have not taken on adult responsibilities. If you spend your 20s living like a teenager, you'll be no more ready for marriage at 30 than you were at 20. All we really seem to be doing is extending adolescence (especially for men), rather than helping people enter marriage more mature and prepared.

I wasn't particularly mature when I got married, and I wasn't particularly selfless or responsible when I started having children. It has been living in a marriage and raising children that matured me, revealed my selfishness, and forced me to be more responsible. I matured through these relationships, in ways I don't think I would have independently of them. For many people, that's going to be the case. (Not everyone, of course: some people are very good at growing in maturity and selflessness through other experiences.) I'm not advocating jumping into marriage while stupid and immature and irresponsible, and yet, realistically, that's pretty much what most people did for much of history, and they managed to do at least as well as we're doing, with our idea that marriage is only for the fully mature and independent.

Sensible

February 10, 2014 at 07:30 PM

What if there is proof? Any examples/stats on how often women "fake" abuse? I suspect you will have a hard time finding those...

Once again, last time I checked, Christ did not establish a fertility gospel. Marriage is about as foundational to Christianity as animal sacrifice; both are passing shadows of a greater drama at work. Avoidance of marriage does not necessarily indicate immaturity; I think we can all agree that the apostle Paul was a rather mature individual. Of course, Christ aptly observed that not many would accept this...

R

February 10, 2014 at 03:53 PM

"Wait until you complete college, have a good job, and are established in life (25+ years of age) and your chances of divorce go way down."

That's because we have made divorce too easy. As the saying goes, that which you subsidize, you get more of. When a woman can cry "abuse" with no proof, have her husband forcibly removed from the home, then during the divorce proceedings keep half his income and then some via alimony and child support for no wrong-doing on his part, (not to mention the numerous government & church handouts for those poor single mothers) then yeah, divorce becomes a lot more attractive for the less mature.

Lori

February 10, 2014 at 03:30 PM

That's looking at marrying over 25 versus marrying under 18, though. I'm not sure anybody is advocating 17 year olds marrying. But, if we're talking about marrying in your early twenties, as opposed to your late twenties, the stats I've seen do not indicate that there is a significant increase in the chance of divorce.