May 27, 2019

Chart: The average marriage age since 1980

Young people around the world are delaying marriage and children and embracing a new life stage of singleness marked by budding careers, hip urban areas, adult roommates and dating around.

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Data: CDC for age of mother at first birthshare of high schoolers who are virgins, and Census for share of never married adults and median age at first marriage; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

Why it matters: The delay in achieving traditional markers of adulthood have contributed to falling fertility rates in many wealthy nations, raising concerns about the ultimate economic impact of a shrinking future generation.

Just a century ago, for most heterosexual Americans at least, "there was no such thing as an urban tribe, or living in a city and meeting people. You grew up, went to work and got married and had kids," Richard Florida, a University of Toronto urban theorist told Axios. "Now you can be a kid into your late 40s."

  • The biggest change in young adult life is that "many people are choosing to settle down after they have sort of every other piece of their life like in check," Betches cofounder Samantha Fishbein told Axios.
  • It's not just a trend in New York, Chicago and L.A. anymore — it's also in places like Nashville, Seattle, Pittsburgh and Denver, according to Florida.

It's even a global phenomenon. In Greece, Japan and Sweden, the average age for women at childbirth has surpassed 30, up from around 27 in 1970, according to UN data. And the mean age at marriage has been steadily climbing in nations such as Germany, Canada and the Netherlands.

As young adults continue to wait longer to settle down, they tend to move and grow distant from the communities and institutions that traditionally led to relationships — creating a void technology has helped fill, Jessica Carbino, a sociologist at Bumble told Axios.

  • Almost one-third of new marriages between 2005 and 2012 began online, and money spent on the top 10 dating apps has almost tripled in just two years, according to App Annie data given to Axios.
  • In no rush and with almost endless potential mates, Millennials are quicker to sleep with prospective partners, but slower to commit, Helen Fisher, chief scientific advisor for Match.com told Axios. But "it's not reckless, it's caution."
What I think people want today is to get to know every single thing about a potential partner before they tie the knot.
Helen Fisher

How we got here: The education and empowerment of women has been a key driver in extended adolescence.

  • "It's more socially acceptable that women don't have to marry until later, if at all," Stephanie Tong from Wayne State University told Axios.
  • Financial security is also a factor. "People really try to make a living first. You try to get more security, finish education. It takes longer and longer," Michael Herrmann, an economist and demographer at the U.N. Population Fund, told Axios in October.

What's next: Demographers worry about the potential economic impacts from the falling fertility rates — like delayed retirement, overburdened systems for elderly care and slowed economic growth. "We’re pushing a biological limit," Florida said.

Go deeper: Our Deep Dive on the future of dating

Original story: The new rite of passage: Young, busy and still single (2/9/18)

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