Delaying marriage more than ever

As I was tying the knot last year, most of my peers were not, according to a new study that suggests the recession has accelerated a decline in the number of people getting married.

The number of young adults ages 25 to 34 who are married dropped from 55 percent to 45 percent from 2000 and 2009. The percentage who have never been married increased from 34 percent to 46 percent, so the proportion of young adults who have never been married now surpasses people who are married.

The Associated Press released a generic roundup of the results with a brief mention of the marriage numbers.

Take marriage.

In America, marriages fell to a record low in 2009, with just 52 percent of adults 18 and over saying they were joined in wedlock, compared to 57 percent in 2000.

The never-married included 46.3 percent of young adults 25-34, with sharp increases in single people in cities in the Midwest and Southwest, including Cleveland, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Albuquerque, N.M. It was the first time the share of unmarried young adults exceeded those who were married.

That's about all we get on marriage--some significant numbers but hardly a significant mention. The most ironic part of this story comes at the end.

The census figures come weeks before the pivotal Nov. 2 congressional elections, when voters anxious about rising deficits and the slow pace of the economic recovery will decide whether to keep Democrats in control of Congress.

Remember me why must all implications be seen through an election cycle? Why not consider, for instance, the implications that the researchers suggest?

These trends are significant because marriage is associated with many benefits for families and individuals, including higher income, better health, and longer life expectancy. One reason for these benefits may be that people with higher potential earnings and better health are "selected" into marriage, resulting in better outcomes for married couples. However, most researchers agree that marriage also has an independent, positive effect on well-being. Therefore, the recent decline in marriage may contribute to worse outcomes for less educated individuals, beyond those resulting from the recent recession.

Getting some anecdotal perspective, the New York Times quotes a counselor connected to a church to offer some perspective on cohabitation and commitment. The counselor seems fairly nonchalant about cohabitation. Remember a few months ago when we looked at some census data on cohabitation? Religious people are most likely to be married and unlikely to cohabitate while nonreligious people are as likely to be single as to be married.

Joel Greiner, 31, director of counseling for the Journey, an interdenominational church in the St. Louis area, said about a third of the couples in his congregation who attend premarital classes live together before marriage, telling him they are "testing out the waters to see if it will work and wanting to save money."

But Mr. Greiner says the talk of economics may be cloaking the primary issue. "It's more a fear of intimacy and fear of marriage," he said.

According to the federal data, the share of young adults who have never married climbed from 35 percent at the start of the decade to 46 percent in 2009.

Taking cues from the researchers' spin, most reporters blamed the economy for why young people are not moving towards marriage. Surely there are more cultural reasons, generational differences and assumptions made besides dollars and cents? Does any data offer breakdowns based on religious practice?

The Wall Street Journal looked at how big cities factor into young people's marriage decisions. Last year, the Journal published at least two pieces in 2009 on how it's harder for couples to divorce during the recession. So is the consensus among sociologists that it's harder to tie the knot but also harder to break the knot during the recession?

Besides, what do more religious leaders have to say about these numbers? Since many of them are doing the tying of the knots, surely they have something to say about these trends.

Bride image via Wikimedia Commons.

Please respect our Commenting Policy