NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Marriage Remains Popular

February 26, 2004

Despite no-fault divorce and changing mores, traditional marriage remains popular.

  • About 59 percent of the adult population is married currently.
  • Although the median age at first marriage has risen over the past 50 years to 27, 65 percent of men and 71 percent of women marry by age 30, according to the most recent figures.
  • By age 60, those figures rise to 97 percent for men and 95 percent for women.

Many of those marriages are preceding by live-in relationships and end in divorce.

  • At least half of all newlyweds have lived together first, researchers say, and sociologist David Popenoe of Rutgers University estimates that two-thirds of people who marry have lived with somebody else first.
  • A Census study showed that 73 percent of women who married between 1980 and 1984 reached their 10th anniversary, compared with 90 percent of women who married between 1945 and 1949.
  • Although divorce leveled off in the 1990s, as many as 50 percent of new marriages end in divorce.

However, live-in unions are more fragile than marriages.

  • About 41 percent of unmarried opposite-sex couples living together have children younger than 18 at home.
  • But children born to unmarried couples who live together have about twice the risk of seeing their parents split than those with married biological parents, according to sociologists Pamela Smock and Wendy Manning.
  • About a third of children are born out of wedlock, and roughly the same percentage live with only one parent or neither parent.

Studies show that married people are healthier, live longer and have higher levels of emotional well-being and lower rates of mental illness and emotional distress than otherwise similar singles or cohabiting couples. They also make more money and build more wealth.

Source: Rick Hampson and Karen S. Peterson, "The state of our unions," USA Today, February 26, 2004.


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