The proportion of American adults who are married today is the lowest ever, according to a new report published by Pew Research. Not only is marriage becoming progressively avoided, the authors added, but also people are waiting longer to tie the traditional knot. The average age for getting married is now 26.5 for females and 28.7 for males.

The researchers – D’Vera Cohn, Jeffrey Passel and Wendy Wang – who gathered data from the US Census, explained that if trends continue along their recent pattern, it will be very few years before the percentage of married adults is lower than single ones.

The institution of marriage is gradually giving way to:

  • Cohabitation
  • Single-person households
  • One-parent families (single parenthood)
  • Young adults continuing to stay with their parents for longer (partly due to the current economic crisis)


In just one year (2009 to 2010) the total number of weddings in America dropped by 5%. The authors said they did not look into the reasons for this, which may or may not be linked to the current economic climate.

Most other developed nations have also seen marriage declining. The long-term decline does not seem to be associated with any business or economic cycle. The percentage of adults who are married has been falling at about the same rate every year, regardless of whether there were periods of economic boom or bust.

In America, the steepest drops in marriage rates have been seen among younger adults – only 20% of Americans aged from 18 to 29 are married today; in 1960 the figure was nearly triple (59%). The average adult who gets married today, does so six years later than his/her counterparts of fifty years ago.

Today, 72% of adults have been married once or more (“ever-married”), compared to 85% fifty years ago.


Almost 40% of adults in the USA today say marriage is becoming an archaic institution, the authors found. However, they also report that in 2010, approximately 61% of adults who have never been married would like to be one day.


The decline in marriage has been slower among those with college degrees compared to less educated people. Part of the reason for people getting married at an older age today can be attributed to a much higher percentage of adults now going to college, and subsequently putting off such commitments until they have completed their academic qualifications.

Although divorce has been a contributory factor to the drop in the proportion of married adults today, this was more the case earlier on. Divorce rates have remained pretty stable over the last twenty years, while marriage continued to decline.

Written by Christian Nordqvist