30% in U.S. have never married, Census says

  • by: Sharon Jayson 05/21/11

Thirty percent of Americans have never been married — the largest percentage in the past 60 years , says the U.S. Census.

Among those ages 25 to 29, the never-marrieds increased from 27% in 1986 to 47% in 2009, says the report, based on data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation. Data on marriage, divorce and remarriage has been collected since 1986. The report, out Wednesday, is the first since 2001.

Increases in both the age at first marriage and in unmarried couples living together are largely responsible for the rise in the never-marrieds, says sociologist Susan Brown, co-director of the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio.

"This speaks to a question researchers have been interested in — whether marriage delayed is going to lead to marriage foregone," she says. "We know the age at first marriage is continuing to rise. Cohabitation is continuing to increase in popularity. Marriage is something that is more optional now and it's also something increasingly people do later in the life course."
The findings are based on data collected in early 2009 from men and women ages 15 and older from 39,000 households. The sample includes 55,497 who have never been married.

Of currently married couples, 55% had been married for at least 15 years; 35% had reached their 25th anniversary. Just 6% had reached the 50-year mark.

Census officials say these percentages are about 1 to 2 percentage points higher than in 1996, and reflect increases in life expectancy and a leveling of divorce rates.

Compared with those who said they were recently married in 1996, those who were newlyweds in 2009 were more likely to be Hispanic and less likely to be white. About 75% of recently married men and women in 1996 were white. This dropped to about 65% in 2009. The proportion of recently married who were Hispanic rose from about 10% in 1996 to 20% in 2009, says Rose Kreider, lead author of the Census report.

"It's a reflection of the growth in Hispanics as a proportion of the U.S. population," she says.

Among other findings:
-First marriages that ended in divorce lasted a median of eight years for men and women. The median time from marriage to separation was shorter — about seven years.
-For all groups of women 25 and older, the majority had married, as had the majority of men 30 and older.