• Heather Tuttle, Pew Research Center
    Family

    U.S. marriage rate hits new low and may continue to decline

    The marriage rate in America has hit a record low and is expected to drop even further next year, according to a company that specializes in wedding and fertility trend forecasts. But some experts speculate that the headline-grabbing recent retreat from marriage may be bottoming out.

    The 2015 U.S. Wedding Forecast from Demographic Intelligence says millennials in the next five years will have more of its members at a typical marrying age than any previous generation. But they are also less likely to tie the knot than their predecessors.

    The report shows a marriage rate of 6.74 per 1,000 people this year, with the number expected to fall slightly lower over each of the next two years. In 2008, the marriage rate in America was 7.09.

    Others have made similar findings. A Pew Research Center report recently said that one-fourth of millennials are likely to eschew marriage entirely.

    “A lot of people would like to see marriage remain strong. It offers benefits to children,” said Sam Sturgeon, Demographic Intelligence president. He noted that research has been somewhat politicized, but is “pretty consistent” in showing that children raised with two parents who are married to each other fare better across multiple measures.

    “I would say that for children, marriage provides a unique level of emotional security and stability,” said W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. “That means they’re more likely to flourish.” That fewer children will be “reared in the context of stable married life” is cause for concern, he added.

    Cultural retreat

    Sturgeon says the United States has been experiencing a “cultural retreat from marriage” that has several drivers. For one, the economy has provided less-than-stellar job prospects for those who are not well-educated. That’s hit unskilled men particularly hard, as they have not been seen as good marriage material. And both men and women are putting off marriage because they don't think it's likely to last, he said.

    Sturgeon also highlighted the growing number of men and women who are living together instead of marrying, many having children outside of marriage. Studies have shown that cohabitating relationships are less stable than married relationships and do not have a great track record for longevity.

    Finally, fewer people are affiliated with religious institutions than in the past, also contributing to a decline in marriage, since religions have been among the staunchest advocates of marriage, Sturgeon said.

    Education impact

    The decline in marriage was particularly steep for young women and for those with lower educational attainment. From 2008 to 2015, the report says, the marriage rate dropped more than 13 percent for young women with high school diplomas or less. At the same time, women who are college-educated have created a different trend. The number of women with college degrees who wed grew from 30 percent to 36 percent.

    Women with degrees are more likely to follow what has been called a “success sequence” of college, then marriage, then children, said Sturgeon.

    He said he believes most women still want marriage at some point, but young or less-educated women are holding out for economic improvements or better marriage-partner prospects. They have not necessarily been putting off having babies, though.

    There are hints that marriage may recover somewhat, or at least decline a bit less. Sturgeon said the decline in the marriage rate has slowed and been less steep recently. "That would suggest that we are nearing the bottom," Sturgeon said.

    He also noted a leveling of births to unmarried mothers, following decades-long growth in the trend.

    The new report offers a look at marriage each year through 2017, with breakouts based on factors like race, income and ethnicity. Demographic Intelligence says it has 99 percent accuracy on its projections.

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