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I’m Louise. Blogger. Wife. Designer of TruLu Couture Veils + Accessories.  If you’d like to know more, check out my bio.

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The Decline of Marriage

So last night I was slaving away in the kitchen making dinner for the hubs, with Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News blaring from the TV for me to hear over the clanging of my pots and pans.  A segment came on that made me abandon my Panko Crusted Chicken dish and take note.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Via the NBC Nightly News, December 14.2010. I ♥ Brian Williams.


Here are some of the stats quoted in this segment:

  • In 2010 51% of the population over the age of 18 is married.
  • In 1960 75% of the population over the age of 18 was married.

This appears to be a HUGE decline, right? We all see that the same way? Good.


  • Marriages have declined 5% since last year.
  • The average age for women getting married is 27, for men it’s 29. That age increases when they are college educated.
  • 72% of the population will marry sometime in our lives.

I’m not really sure about what this segment is supposed to convey to us. At first, I gasped and clutched at my heart thinking, “How will this affect TruLu Couture? The Thirty-Something Bride?” But after the segment was done and I went back to the chicken and the asparagus and the yummy new version of mac-n-cheese I got from Woman’s Day magazine and it got me to thinking about a few things like: populations growth, the U.S. Census of 2010, the sad state of our economy. I did a little research and found out some interesting factoids.

  • First, check out this little graph from the U.S. Census of 2010 on age distribution from 1960 to 2010.


Look at the median age. In 1960 it was 29.5, in 2010 it was 37.2. We are generally older as a population by 7.7 years.  I’m going to use my mom as an example. She got married in 1965 when she was 23 years old and college educated. If you add 7.7 years to that you get 30.7, which is close to that average age that college educated folks are getting married now.  It’s math, not the state of marriage.

Now check this out:


See all the numbers in the far right columns? This comparison is between 2000 and 2010. The percent change in younger people is far lower than those over the age of 45. There are actually less people in the 25-44 year old age range, the range that apparently everyone is now marrying in. Based on these numbers, well, it seems sort of like a no brainer that marriages have indeed dropped in the last 10 years. However, I don’t think it’s because people are necessarily not getting married, it’s because there are physically less of us in that younger age range to marry.

I could do some digging and find out what the population was in 1960 in the 25-44 year old age range, but I’m too lazy. I think we can make some safe assumptions, right?

And as for the decrease in weddings over the last year? Five percent? Sounds about right to me. If you’re an average American bride, you know times are tight. Weddings have been pushed back, postponed, delayed…all to manage them financially. I read about brides doing this all the time. Have you read the same or am I crazy here?  I don’t  think it’s ANY sort of representation of or trend for marriage. I think people are marrying smarter.

Gone is the notion that a woman needs to marry to survive either financially or socially. We can make our own money, support ourselves and have kids solo if we so desire. The need to marry no longer applies. It’s a choice. When we choose to do so, it then becomes a very personalized event. These events take time and money, the latter being harder to come by these days.

And what about that total of 72%? That many of us will eventually marry. How does that compare to how many of us did in 1960? In total population, I’ll bet it’s more, but compared to how many eventually did back then? I wonder.

So I’m not sure what the segment is really trying to convey. There seemed to be some element of worry in the tone of the piece. Should we be worried? Is there some doom and gloom associated with staying single or the decline (which I believe is relative) of marriage? What, if anything, does this say about us as a society? A country? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Reader Comments (10)

Sounds like a segment sponsored by The Heritage Foundation, if you ask me ;)

December 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNatosha

@Natosha - Right?!? Too funny.

December 15, 2011 | Registered CommenterLouise

Perhaps some of the worry is about the "decline of the traditional family", which implies I think, the decline of moral and religious values. This worries some people.
I agree that the cause of the decrease from 2010 is most likely the economy.
I also think that more people now are waiting for a soulmate. Years ago many people married because society or their church put the pressure on them to marry at a young age and have children. Gus and I actually had an Episcopal priest tell us that it would be a sin not to have children.
Note: Even in 1965, Gus and I delayed our wedding (we were engaged 1 1/2yrs) because we paid for most of it ourselves and waited so we could save up for it. I am sure lots of couples are in the same boat now.
Interesting statistics.

December 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMom

I didn't think about the religious aspects of it, then versus now. I mean, I think people, by and large, were probably more religious then than now. Or, if not religious, were at least attending places of worship out of a more strict social code than we follow today.

December 15, 2011 | Registered CommenterLouise

They talked about this on NPR as well. I was thinking the same things as you - that people have been delaying marriage for a variety of reasons (which you listed here), that there are fewer people in general, that the average age is skewed older, etc.

However, when marriage becomes a personal choice and not a necessity, as with anything, of course it will decline. People (particularly women) do not need to marry anymore. Many still want to marry - and did - however, I think there is a larger percentage of women who would rather be single than settle, because being single doesn't hold the financial and societal stigmas it did 50 years ago. The same can go for men, as well.

There is also a growing trend of non-traditional families with partners who choose not to marry (legally) for a variety of reasons, but live together and have children, like a "traditional" family unit would. (I tend to think this decision is short-sighted, given the significant social, financial, and (most importantly) legal benefits to marriage, however that is beside the point.)

December 15, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteririsira

@Irisira - excellent points! Should I assume that "non-traditional" partners includes gay couples? That number of people who are together, yet not legally bound could add into the official "decline" of recorded marriages. I wonder what that percentage is? Anyone know what percentage of new marriages (recognized by the census - only for a "control group" type of analysis) are homo versus hetero? I'd like to know that number.

December 15, 2011 | Registered CommenterLouise

Building on what Irisira is saying, I think it's also important to remember that back in 1960, the vast majority of gay people lived closeted lives and married spouses of the opposite sex, artificially boosting marriage numbers.

Today, thankfully LBGTQ people are able to live much more out-in-the-open and are choosing to live their lives with significant others of the same sex, but because of the marriage laws of the majority of US jurisdictions, these couples are forced to live together without marriage. When marriage becomes available to these couples, the jurisdictions that have allowed same-sex marriages also see a spike in weddings. So equality isn't just right, it's also good for the economy, and like the court cases say, good for the institution of marriage. :D

Ahem. *Stepping off soapbox.*

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

That's interesting! Maybe because more people don't believe anymore in the matrimony of marriage. I guess they are afraid to be tied up and later on filed for divorce if the marriage didn't work out. Less hassle! -Sarah-

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGreeting Card Printing

I think you said it best when you said that people are marrying more intelligently. I'd wonder what the divorce rate was in the 80s, when the people who rushed to get married in the 60s hit middle age and began to regret their choices. And as other people have said here, you wanna boost marriage rates? Let LGBT folks get married.

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterindependent clause

This is very interesting. People should really think that marriage is still important.

December 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWedding Favors

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