Feb 25, 2023 - Economy

America the single

Illustration of a lone groom cake topper atop a wedding cake

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Americans are increasingly forgoing or delaying marriage — a dramatic shift from societal norms a generation ago.

By the numbers: Over the last 50 years, the marriage rate in the U.S. has dropped by nearly 60%.

What's happening: Taxes and some other legal structures still give an advantage to married couples, but the formal benefits of marriage are diminishing, said Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins. And the societal pressure to marry has eroded dramatically.

  • "Life is still a bit easier if you're married," he said. But many of the life events we link to marriage, such as cohabitating or having kids, are increasingly occurring outside of marriage.

Reality check: Even as the marriage rate is falling, the institution still holds value in the U.S., said Susan Brown, co-director of the National Center for Family & Marriage Research.

  • Case in point: High school seniors' attitudes toward marriage have remained relatively stable over the past several decades.
  • In 1976, 74% of seniors said they expected to get married, and in 2020, 71% said so, according to an ongoing University of Michigan study.

But the way we think about marriage is changing.

  • "It used to be a basic institution that everyone had to buy into in early adulthood," Cherlin said. "You got married, then you moved in together, and then you got a job."
  • "Marriage is now becoming the last step into adulthood." And it's an optional step. People are more likely to want to finish their education, find a job and pay off debt before getting hitched.

As a result, many are delaying marriage.

  • The number of women entering their first marriage between the ages of 40 and 59 has jumped 75% since 1990, Brown said.

The bottom line: Expect far fewer 50th anniversary parties in the future.

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