Marriage is Declining in America

March 28, 2022 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

This article by Charles Blow in The New York Times is interesting.

The Married Will Soon Be the Minority

When I was young, everything in society seemed to aim one toward marriage. It was the expectation. It was the inevitability. You would — and should — meet someone, get married and start a family. It was the way it had always been, and always would be.

But even then, the share of people who were married was already falling. The year I was born, 1970, the percentage of Americans between the ages of 25 and 50 who had never married was just 9 percent. By the time I became an adult, that number was approaching 20 percent.

Some people were delaying marriage. But others were forgoing it altogether.

This trend has only continued, and we are now nearing a milestone. This month, the Pew Research Center published an analysis of census data showing that in 2019 the share of American adults who were neither married nor living with a partner had risen to 38 percent, and while that group “includes some adults who were previously married (those who are separated, divorced or widowed), all of the growth in the unpartnered population since 1990 has come from a rise in the number who have never been married.”

Photo by Trung Nguyen from Pexels

This came on the heels of data released by the National Center for Health Statistics last year, which showed that marriage rates in 2018 had reached a record low. We are nearing a time when there will be more unmarried adults in the United States than married ones, a development with enormous consequences for how we define family and adulthood in general, as well as how we structure taxation and benefits.

Of course, the unmarried and unpartnered portions of the population vary among demographic groups. As Pew pointed out:

Among those ages 25 to 54, 59 percent of Black adults were unpartnered in 2019. This is higher than the shares among Hispanic (38 percent), white (33 percent) and Asian (29 percent) adults. For most racial and ethnic groups, men are more likely than women to be unpartnered. The exception is among Black adults, where women (62 percent) are more likely to be unpartnered than men (55 percent).

As a society, we have to start asking ourselves whether it is fair and right to continue to reward and encourage marriage through taxation and policy when fewer people — disproportionately Black ones — are choosing marriage or finding acceptable partnerships.

Is marriage always the ideal? And should single people pay a loner tax — part of what The Atlantic’s Lisa Arnold and Christina Campbell in 2013 called “institutionalized singlism” — for not pursuing it?

In 2013, when Arnold and Campbell were completing their analysis, they found that “over a lifetime, unmarried people can pay upward of $1 million more than their married counterparts for health care, taxes and more.”

I have been married. I no longer am. I do not see remarriage in my future. It is not an ambition I possess. And I see nothing wrong with that. But I am also keenly aware of the nudging of those around me, who are married or aspire to be and who falsely assume that an eventual marriage is the only way to be truly happy and whole, to have completed the checklist of life. I rebuke all of that.To each his (or her) own, I say. And that includes the happily single and happily partnered people who don’t want to marry.

There is clearly a case to be made when children are involved that they benefit from more parenting and more money. This doesn’t necessarily mean marriage, but it often does. As the Brookings Institution explained in 2014:

Children raised by married parents do better at school, develop stronger cognitive and noncognitive skillsare more likely to go to collegeearn more and are more likely to go on to form stable marriages themselves. Using our own benchmarks of success at different life stages, developed as part of the Brookings Social Genome Model (now a partnership with the Urban Institute and Child Trends), we find similar patterns.

Photo by Jeremy Wong from Pexels

But what of the adults who have no children or whose children are now adults?

Paul Dolan, a behavioral scientist at the London School of Economics, says that while men, in the aggregate, could benefit from marriage because it calms them down and makes them take fewer risks, women, again in the aggregate, don’t receive the same benefits. On the contrary, according to Dolan, the happiest subgroup is women who never marry or have children.

This, of course, could be debated until we are all blue in the face. There are plenty of responsible men who don’t need a wedding ring as an anchor, and there are plenty of married mothers who would argue that their families are the lights of their lives.

But the point remains: Marriage as the prevailing ideal is losing its grip. And the stigma of being unmarried is also losing its grip, as it should. Now government policy that rewards the married while punishing the single must also loosen up.

K.O.’s Comment: Here are a few noteworthy reader comments on this article:

  • As a girl who was raised by parents who were miserable with each other, I never married. I saw how my mother was expected to be subservient to my father and wanted nothing of that. But all my life, I’ve fought this notion that I was broken and less than because I choose to remain single. I am much more emotionally healthy than either of my parents ever were. They were expected to get married. And they were expected never to get divorced. Just as we have thrown off the shackles of thinking marriage is only between a man and a woman, let us throw off the shackles of thinking that marriage is the ideal. It may be for some people, but not necessarily.
  • This article is naive in assuming that the low figures for marriage are ‘by choice,’ as opposed to erosions of behavior and attitudes that have, of themselves, led to a decline in the potential for marriage. Behaving in irresponsible and selfish manners are not necessarily conducive to marriage. Being isolated or insular may not necessarily lead to increases in marriage. It is changes in the social fabric of some communities over time that is decreasing the numbers of marriage, not some conscious choice to remain unmarried. It is the loss of the tradition of the importance of family that has caused marriage to decline.
  • I love being single. I look at my divorced friends and feel lucky, but I also see the true love stories among my friends — some married, some not — that have stood the test of time, and realize not only how uncommon they are, but how wonderful. If marriages become more like theirs then that’s a good thing, regardless of whether married couples become a minority. Marriage isn’t a goal or a step in a life plan, but one of many blessings you could receive in life.
  • My motto is: Once around the block is enough for me. Fortunately, I was lucky that the man I married has remained a loving, caring, and decent person for over 50 years now. But let me tell you keeping a good marriage “good” is a lot of work. In my day, my peers and I went to college, met our husbands during or shortly after that time, and married often within a year of graduation. I would also say that more than half of these devoted Catholic young women ended up divorced. Fast forward to my own daughters, one marrying later in life, the other not intending to EVER marry. And it has nothing to do with taxation or the like. Rather it has everything to do with many women becoming comfortable in their own skin, cherishing independence, and the right to be individuals. That is just fine with me. Marriage is neither the end all nor the do all; it took a number of decades and even generations to understand that. Good work.

Source: The Married Will Soon Be the Minority (The New York Times, October 20, 2021

If you found this helpful, please share it using the buttons below.

Marriage is Declining in America was last modified: March 29th, 2022 by K.O. Herston

Leave a Comment