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  • Writer's pictureJoel Harder

Marriage in the USA: 9 Things

This is an excellent piece that run in The Gospel Coalition today. Point number SIX particularly caught my eye, “Marriage has shifted from being the cornerstone to the capstone of adult life.” I married a bit later than many of my friends and peers (that I grew up with) and after struggling through a number of the questions that I had in that process (was I making bad decisions, are my priorities correct, etc.), it became increasingly clear to me that I was not giving God enough credit for the trajectory of my life and relationships. There is certainly a need to be introspective and consider our decisions and behaviors as we pursue marriage, but we can’t ignore that societally the trends, expectations, and norms for marriage in America are changing.

And if you’re interested in a discussion about pursuing marriage and navigating singleness in that process, don’t miss the Sacred Search Conference at FBCA on March 15. Register at

Nine Things You Should Know About Marriage in America

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 average ages of people when they first marry (as of 2010) was 28.9 for men and 2010 for 26.9 women.

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.

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).

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