Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Relevancy of Marriage in the United States

I know some people feel that marriage as an institution is dying out, but I disagree...
Tom Lehrer, 1965

The subject of marriage has been in the local news a lot recently, with the recent Obergefell v. Hodges decision and all.  What are my thoughts on the subject?  Statistics, or course.

Question #1: Do people still get married?
In short, the rate of marriage has been declining in the United States for decades.  In 2010, 51% of US adults 18 and over were married[1].  (I think it's safe to assume that this figure is lower than 50% in 2015.)  In 1960, 72% of US adults were married.  And it's not that people are staying divorced more these days.  In 1960, 15% of US adults were "Single, Never Married".  Fifty years later, in 2010, this figure had nearly doubled, to 28%.

Actually, there's a lot of interesting information in the link I referenced above.  But my point is that a lot fewer people get married now than in the past.  Unless everyone is waiting for Mr and/or Miss Right, it would seem that the relevance of marriage is declining for US adults.

Question #2: Do only married people have children?
The answer to this question is, "Of course not."  But what about the trend?  In 2013, 40.6% of US births were to single mothers[2], a figure which had been basically unchanged since first reaching 40% in 2008.  In 1960, this figure was 5.6%.

Also of note in that referenced link is the fact that more than half (58%) of the 40% mentioned above are to cohabiting parents.  So, almost a quarter (23.2) of young US children were born to a 2-parent, unmarried heterosexual household.

I'm curious how many US children are living with both of their married, biological (or adoptive) parents, and how this has changed, but I can't easily find this value.  According to this link [3], 46% of US children in 2013 were living with both their parents in their parents' first marriage, down from 73% in 1960.  Actually, according to [4], the situation doesn't seem as non-traditional, as in 2009, 64.7% of US children were living with married parents.  But I expect this percentage to decline, as more of the youngest children are being born to unmarried mothers.

My point with regards to children is that I don't think children of unmarried parents will feel that marriage is "relevant", at least in the sense that it's made a positive difference in their lives.  And, within a generation, these will be the adults, either getting married, or not.

A lot will be made (quite rightfully) regarding whether or not the government should (or may) limit a citizen's marriage choices to a member of the opposite sex.  But the numbers show that a declining number of US adults are getting married.  And, with a declining percentage of US children being born to, and living in, "traditional" family situations, I expect this decline to continue.  Regardless of ones stand on Obergefell v. Hodges, this overall decay in the institution of marriage is the bigger story.

...and the point was driven home to me rather forcefully not long ago by a letter I received which said: "Darling, I love you and I cannot live without you. Marry me, or I will kill myself." Well, I was a little disturbed at that until I took another look at the envelope and saw that it was addressed to occupant.
Tom Lehrer, 1965