We’re Not Putting Rings On It: U.S. Marriage Rate is at All-Time Low

December 15, 2011  |  

With so much stigma placed on single ladies–and men–it’s hard to believe only 51% of Americans over the age of 18 are married today, according to an analysis of census data by the Pew Research Center.

That number is the lowest in recorded history—down 7% from 2000 and 21% from 1960 when 72% of Americans were married. It’s expected that within just a few years, the societal norm will flip and married people will become the minority.

When you look at the economy, which is the biggest factor behind the decline, the trend makes sense. When the country was in a recession, wedded rates dropped 5% from 2009-2010, with the biggest decline—13%—seen among adults 18-24 years old. Between outsourcing, the overall increase in unemployment, and the decline of government and health benefits, it’s not surprising people are more cautious to jump the broom.

“This trend reflects the changing labor market that young adults face,” says Andrew Cherlin, a sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University. Single people “think that you shouldn’t get married until you’re positive that you can make a go of it financially.”

People still desire to have life partners, though, as the study found more couples are living together and having children without getting married. Cohabitation, living alone, and single parenthood have all grown more prevalent.

But what sounds a bit sour now to us now could be sweet in the long run, according to Clair Brown, an economics and public policy professor at the University of California at Berkeley. She says sociological trends are often beneficial for the economy and people who stay in school longer and wait to have children get better jobs and have more mature relationships. That is definitely good news.

Has your desire to get married declined with the United States’ economy? Have you put off plans to get married until things get better financially? Do you think married people will eventually become the minority in the U.S.?

Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.

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  • Girliusmaximus

    To everyone on here making comments regarding “where have people’s values gone” and such, I’d like to know to whose values are we referring? Remember that not everyone shares the same values… And I’d also like to ask everyone what is the difference between a single parent and a divorced single parent?

    • Guess

      The children of divorced parents were placed in a circumstance that gave them more stability, those in fatherless households, well you know…

      • Girliusmaximus

        What if the couple was together, just not married, and then separated?

        • Guess

          It’s 2011, we all know the problems that are overwhelmingly affecting the fatherless children in all communities – poverty, sexual abuse, prison, school drop out, behavioral issues – why do people insist on ignoring this?  Why do women want to give their children a disadvantage?  Why do women want added pressure financially, socially, etc.  In today’s society, kids need more.  Our boys need fathers, our girls need fathers. And many women need a partner and support.

          In my opinion, too many kids are being born in loveless relationships. Not in committed, co-parenting relationships.

          • Girliusmaximus

            I’m not disagreeing with you… The point of all my comments is that a one size fits all solution doesn’t work. Marriage or lack of is not the answer to why people have children that they don’t take care of. There are plenty of married parents who might as well be classified as single when it comes to raising the children because the other spouse is basically non existent as a parental figure… I personally can’t answer why a woman would want to raise a child alone but being married doesn’t necessarily guarantee that a child will have a better upbringing. People need to get married for the right reasons independent of children, support, etc. Marriage is not the end all be all, nor is it the answer to everything. But adults who produce children need to take care of their children whether they are married or not.

            • Guess

              Sadly, people will find any excuse to continue to escalate the issues that are negatively affecting our children.
              No marriage is not a guarantee that a child will have a better upbringing. Nothing in life is a guarantee. Multiple degrees, making more money doesn’t guarantee happiness, stability, nor a stress-free life. But people are encourage to not only further their education, but continue to strive for success academically. And work well paying jobs. Why? Because this makes life just a little more easier.
              Same goes for those raised in two parent homes – we all know that children in two parent homes fair better – this makes life just a little more easier. Today’s children need every advantage. They shouldn’t be stumped by excuses such as. ” There are plenty of married parents who might as well be classified as single when it comes to raising the children because the other spouse is basically non existent as a parental figure.”

              • Guest

                I with you GUESS.  I’m a man and I don’t understand how so many women want the exception to disprove the rule. Nearly every study shows that children from stable marriages fare better.  That’s why all human societies currently in existence, whether it be Christian, Muslim, Jewish or Buddhist practice marriage.  It has always been and always will be the best way to raise a family.

                • Girliusmaximus

                  Well good for both of you, but no ONE person can say what is better for EVERYONE and I’ll never change my opinion on that. And Guest, if you’re going to say “studies show” give sources next time.

                  • HonestBrotha

                    The fact that you would need sources (since this has been studied and reported for decades) to prove that children born via marriage do better than those born out of wedlock is amazing.

                    They have higher drop out rates. Higher rates of incarceration. Higher incidents of violent behavior. Hell…to the best of my knowledge I don’t ever recall reading or hearing about one statistical category where children born OOW do better than those born via marriage.

                    Don’t worry. I get it. To embrace that reality would put the spotlight on all those who “thought” they weren’t cheating their child by depriving them of the better scenario for success. You would rather look at the few successes than the massive failures.

                    • Girliusmaximus

                       You are way too negative. And stereotypical. But that’s exactly why you have a problem with my opinion. I don’t think people should be in one category. And children are born into poverty because broke people who can barely support themselves have kids, not because mothers are unwed.

                    • HonestBrotha

                      You’ve given your opinion. I’ve given you the facts. The fact is women who have children OOW are not the same as women who were married, had children and are now divorced. 

                      When you consider the facts that have been laid out it’s clear. While not perfect by any means, children born within marriage simply do better. Maybe it’s because of the resources afforded to them. Maybe it’s the result of having the balance of two parents. We could speculate as to the “why” but we can’t argue the results. Which unfortunately far too many Black women do for no other reason than self-preservation of image.

                      The topic centers on a lack of marriage. (Here is my opinion on that..) Since men are the ones asking one can assume there are fewer proposals. Granted, I know the sistas would like to spin it and say they’re simply not accepting but let’s be honest. The brothas ain’t asking and they aren’t going to ask any time soon.

                      Why? Could be the disproportionate number of BW not only with children but children by worthless men at that. Nothing could be worse than having to deal with a knucklehead. Could be the fact that the majority of Black women didn’t get to see the dynamics of husband/wife and frankly don’t have a clue about how it works. Lastly, I believe men simply don’t see the value in marriage anymore because they get so little out of it while working to make everyone else’s life easier. Later.

  • Jason D

    Why even set urself up like that? When the marriage falls apart the woman jacks u for half of everything, and ur stuck with child support and lost dreams of what ur life could have been. I’ve seen so many guys throw away their dreams cause some chick suckered them into marriage, not to mention all the money that could have been made. And the money lost from having kids… A big hell no in my book.. no marriage and kids for me, I’m out for bigger things

    • Pivyque

      Guess it depends on the type of woman you are with. If it’s the right woman, the marriage won’t fall apart. I definitely think that you should follow your dreams first and worry about marriage and starting a family later. 

    • R123

      A woman can not legally “Jack” you for anything, and if you happen to have children its your responsibility to financially support the child, period. You must be young because you’re more concerned about making money instead of building a strong foundation that creates more money in the long-term. I don’t care how successful you become in life, if you have no wife or kids who can you say is really out to love you for you and not your money? A single rich man will more likely encounter golddiggers who want that one night stand and have a baby for long-term money, or become desperate enough to lie and attempt to sue you for 100s of reasons. From a long term perspective, I doubt if you find one rich man with no kids or wife but living happy.

      • Jason D

        No I’m not young, 31 with a nice career and no criminal history. No damn kids and I’m free. Yes money is important.. now and later on in life so don’t try to gas me with that “wife & kids” deal. If I need someone to love me I have people in my family for that.. if the golddiggers come then a “one night stand” is what they’re for plain and simple. No baby or pregnancies come into the mix because I’m careful and responsible in that department. Plus kids get in the way



    I think that a lot of people are not respecting the unity of marriage.
     It has become so comfortable to some if they just exist instead of making
    an effort to do better.  Marriage is a lot of work and one day I pray that
    I have the opportunity to have the experience with the man God has chosen for
    me.  It’s really sad that in these days more people aren’t actually
    working together in helping one another, the men making sure women, children, and family
    are taking care of.  


    • Cuba

      There are many men (assuming you are a woman) that want the same thing you are looking for.  Deal with those men exclusively.  Dont be afraid to open your options to men of different races.  Dont let miserable women deter you (misery loves company).  And remember that God gave us marriage for a reason.  He knows what is better for us than society. 

  • Business406

    It’s sad how each day goes by people let go of values. Single parenthood is a struggle for the parent AND THE CHILD. At least try to give the kid a fair start. There is nothing cute about being a baby momma or baby daddy. I can’t imagine how this world will be in the next 20 years. Smh.

    • Cuba

      In the next 20 years, many fatherless children will be worse off then now (Dear God, I can’t imagine).  And the mothers will still claim that they are strong, indepent, damn good parents.

    • Girliusmaximus

      I only have one question regarding your comment… What is the difference between a single parent, and a divorced single parent?

      • Stanley

        Both of them are single parents.

        • Girliusmaximus


          • HonestBrotha

            This is one of the most detrimental “lies” Blacks buy in to to diminish the stigma associated with out of wedlock births. It’s silly, bordering on idiotic to equate the two. First and foremost the vast majority of Black children born out of wedlock are born into poverty. The vast majority of children born via marriage are not. A divorced mother isn’t the same as a single mother. A divorced mother will most likely get financial support from her husband. The father most likely will have visitation rights. Simply put they’re still trying (keyword) to function as a family unit without sharing a residence. Now we could waste time and talk about how this or that doesn’t guarantee anything (because you know how Blacks need guarantees to simply do right) but the fact remains. There is a clear difference.

  • Girliusmaximus

    I think more people are putting it off until they are more financially secure and sure about their lives. Marriage doesn’t provide the same security it once did before the economy tanked, and let’s face it, people as individuals are more concerned with their personal well being and can’t necessarily be worrying about a spouse and family.

    I will say overall, the economy probably has people re-evaluating the role marriage is going to play in their lives. Since we don’t live in a society where arranged marriages are the norm, people now look at whether marriage is a benefit or detriment to their lives regardless of having kids and other issues.

    • Guess

      I actually think that marriage has provided more security since the economy has tanked.  Thanks God my husband and I still have two salaries because many married couples have been reduced to one salary.  But one salary is better than none. For those who are single, especially with children, who have been laid off it has been a real struggle.

      • Girliusmaximus

        I can understand your point of view, but I’ve known several couples who have divorced due to the economy…
        You can go into marriage with the best of intentions but an individual person is never going to be able to anticipate how some life altering event will affect them. All the men in the couples I know said they never thought they’d lose their jobs and ability to support their families so that created a divide that they and the wives apparently couldn’t close… I assumed that issues like that fell under the “better or worse” category and if the marriage was strong they’d be able to work it out but apparently it was too much for them. Not everyone has the positive attitude you have and see the glass half full… For some couples it’s, Oh no we can’t live on just one salary, and sometimes that’s all it takes for problems to arise and take over.
        Some people can only make things work when things are going well and don’t know how to cope when they aren’t, which is what has happened to a lot of people in light of economic times.

        • Guess

          It’s quite sad that couples would choose to divorce because someone loses a job.  The economy could be going well and people still lose their jobs, file bankruptcy, lose homes. Those are the moments when couples need each other mos;, sacrifices should be made; one spouse encourage and supports the other.  I cant imagine being down and out and my husband announces he cant be the man he needs to be, or vice verse.  What does commitment mean…when people choose to bounce when times are hard. 

          I guess if people cannot support the person they love when that person is in need then marriage is not for them.

          But for those men who would leave their families b/c they lost their jobs, do they truly believe that leaving makes things better.  That’s a selfish move.  Real men support, protect, and guide their families through thick and thin.  And as a wife, if my husband ever thought about leaving because of lack of money, I will fight damn hard to keep him and our marriage in tack.