I was not the least bit surprised by the recent study from the Pew Research Center which declared that marriage rates have dropped to historic lows in the United States.
Just under half of American adults are now wedded in holy matrimony, the lowest level ever, according to Pew.
Today, only 51 percent of U.S. adults (aged 18 or above) are married, versus 72 percent in 1960. Moreover, couples are getting married later in life – currently, the median age is 26.5 for men and 28.7 for women; again, all-time highs.
Indeed, among young adults (between the ages of 18 and 29), the decline in marriage has been particularly dramatic. Now, only one-in-five people in this age group are married -- a colossal drop from 59 percent in 1960.
An astounding 14 percent of adults are divorced (almost triple the 1960 figure).
Even more remarkable, more and more Americans are ending up never getting married -- in 2010, 72 percent of U.S. adults had been wed at least once, down from 85 percent in 1960.
From just 2009 to 2010 alone, the number of weddings in the U.S. plunged by 5 percent.
A confluence of concurrent, largely-unrelated factors, have contributed to the dramatic fall in the number of married couples -- including the sexual revolution, the women’s rights movement, easier access to divorce, the increased mobility of society, increased participation by women in the workforce, among many others.
However, this has been a long-term trend – going back at least forty years – and seemed to have accelerated after the 2008 financial global meltdown, which threw millions of Americans out of work, thereby postponing, or even cancelling, innumerable nuptials across the land.
W. Bradford Wilcox, the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, told ABC News: “Marriage is less likely to anchor the adult life course. It’s less likely to ground children’s experience with family life. It plays a less central role as an institution in American life.”
He also mentioned the economic demands made by many prospective mates today.
“People are looking for a soul-mate but also a person with a decent job,” Wilcox said. “The bar has been raised. Expectations are higher.”
Coinciding with the decline in the institution of marriage, the cohabitation and single-parent households have been rising over the decades. Interestingly, the divorce rate (while still very high) appears to be leveling off.
Wilcox commented: “In the minds of Americans, getting married and becoming parents are two different things. Their top priority is being a parent, second to having a successful marriage. People have separated the two things. Years ago, they were closely linked to one another. The bottom line is that kids are experiencing more instability and more hardship because the adults are less likely to get and stay married.”
In connection with this phenomenon, birth rates are also falling.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of births in the U.S. dropped by 3 percent from 2009 to 2010. In fact, birth rates are dropping pretty much across the board, regardless of age, race, or income group.
Most experts believe these trends will persist.
There are many aspects and ramifications to these alarming numbers -- but I would like to focus on just one: I think that more and more college-educated, employed women will likely never find a husband.
This is connected to the fact that women are also increasingly attending college. On some campuses, the girls outnumber the boys by an astonishing three-to-one ratio. While women lag behind men in top corporate executive positions; I believe this gap will be narrowed in the coming years --- with a dearth of qualified men for such high-level jobs, companies will have no choice but to fill such positions with highly-talented and accomplished women.
What does this mean for America’s future?
Allow me to speculate.
From a purely personal, anecdotal perspective, in Manhattan (where I live) I am seeing fewer and fewer married couples with children; and more and more women with good-paying jobs who are unmarried and have no husbands, nor even any boyfriends.
I suspect that as the economy remains fragile, and as the cost of living (and raising a child) increases and more women continue to enter the white-collar work-force, we will eventually create a society of millions of men and women who will be unmarried and childless.
Indeed, the pool of “suitable” men is diminishing, resulting in more and more single women.
Granted, women with a strong maternal instinct have other alternatives to having children – including in-vitro fertilization and adoption, among others.
Right-wing conservatives (both male and female) will claim that women are making gains at the expense of men – I don’t agree with this assertion.
However, I do believe that something terrible is happening to American men. I’m not sure what it is -- perhaps rampant drug abuse, alcoholism, apathy, the corrosive effects of TV and mass media, among other ills that plague the nation.
When I go out to bars and restaurants in Manhattan, I am always struck by the large number of (seemingly) unattached women with no men around them. Perhaps in some cases, it’s “girls’ night out” – but regardless of what evening it is, women always greatly outnumber men at these places. I also see unusually large number of young women (in groups or solo) without men in the daytime at cafes and stores.
One might contend that Manhattan is vastly different from the rest of country, I would heartily agree -- for one thing, the percentage of people here who are homosexual or lesbian is much higher than for the country as a while (and this may be skewing some of the data to a degree). But keep in mind that trends that begin in New York often spill over into the rest of the U.S.
Of course, even in a worst-case scenario, I don’t think that the U.S. faces the dire predicament of Japan – a country with a rapidly aging population and a birth rate so low that some prognosticators have warned that the land of the rising sun may actually run out of people by the middle of this century.
For one thing, immigration to the United States will likely always replenish the gene pool to compensate for the large number of present-day Americans who will die unmarried and childless. But that will be a very different country from what we have now.
In the meantime, as tens of thousands of young women in their 20s and 30s are enjoying the ‘good life’ in New York and elsewhere, they might be oblivious to the fact that many (most?) of them will likely spend the rest of their lives alone.