Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Snapshot of Marriage

I mentioned yesterday hearing news that marriage as an institution seemed to be on the rocks. Today I went on a hunt for the actual data. Media sources all referred to statistics for the 25-34 age group and gave as their source, sometimes with links, the Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey. Indeed, a press release by the Bureau had been issued last Tuesday, but despite wasting several hours, I could not actually discover any data specifically related to that age group and its marital status, not for 2009 nor for earlier years.

This sometimes happens—and makes me shake my head. I’m not an amateur in finding hidden data on the government’s statistical sites. In any case, in this process, I did find credible stats to reproduce the news, more or less. My figures are slightly better than reported for today and for 2000 (a higher rate of marriage)—but the trend is, alas, as reported in the media.

I got my data from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey for 2003-2010 by using the table-making utility found here. I calculated data for 2000 from Table 1 in this 2000 Census report. And, running into lunch time, I extrapolated data for 2001 and 2002 to save time. Herewith I chart the data:

A decade’s worth of numbers do indeed show that marriage is at least temporarily not a life-style choice for many, approaching half of those in the age range where we tend to settle down. But in looking at this graphic I remind myself of a lesson I learned early in my long career looking through this strange lens: curves never keep on going upor down. Sooner or later the worm turns.


  1. Well, that is interesting... and make me think of several things.

    First, what are cohabitatin rates doing?

    Second, a lot more people are staying at home with Mom and Dad for a helluv a lot longer... and that is not conducive to marriage.

    Third, is there an element of financial inability occuring here? There may well be, though I'd have to study it further. But, based on my quick look at the first good report on cohabitation I found it looks like the higher degree of education attained, the higher rate of marriage. Now, I didn't expect that!

    Here's the report's location:

    Sadly, it dates back a ways.

  2. This reminds me of some statistics I saw on marriage ages for Irish men and for Irish American men. The general upshot of those stats was that men in poor financial condition are generally disinclined to get married.

    It also reminds me of myself and many of my friends who were scraping away at low-wage jobs while in our 20s. Making $6 an hour does not put you at the head of the list of prime marriage candidates.

    All of which perhaps bespeaks this trend as another indication of the erosion of the American middle class. At some level it might be difficult to disentangle cause and effect, though. Human beings in their late teens and twenties tend not to get married if they can't afford to support a family and a place of their own. Human beings in their late teens and twenties tend to have babies, anyway. Babies born to unmarried parents tend to lead to a host of financial woes.

    And thus a trend starts to become a downward, self-reinforcing spiral.