For the first time, married couples make up less than half of American households, according to recently released Census data. In 2010, 48 percent of American households were married couples, a slight drop from 2000. In 1950, 78 percent of American households were married couples.
At the same time, 27 percent of American households now consist of only one person, more than double the amount in 1960. Because life expectancies have risen, the amount of elderly Americans living alone has also increased.
The data signifies a shift in what constitutes the American “traditional family,” defined as married couples with children. These constituted just 20 percent of American households in 2010, down from 25 percent in 2000 and 43 percent in 1950.
Several factors may be at play. The median age for first marriage has been steadily rising for decades, up to 28 for men and 26 for women in 2010, an increase from 27 for men and 25 for women in 2000.
Culturally, divorce carries less stigma than it did in the past, as do unmarried couples living together. Unmarried couples who shared a household accounted for 12 percent of American couples in 2010 – 25 percent more than in 2000.
Women, who currently outnumber men in higher education, are also marrying later and becoming choosier about whom they choose to partner with. As University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor June Carbone told The New York Times, women with college degrees are now more likely to marry than those who only have a high school diploma.
The depressed economy is another potential factor for decreasing marriage rates. Census data revealed that industrial areas with higher unemployment rates also had higher concentrations of households with unmarried couples. In times of economic uncertainty, these couples may be more hesitant to make long-term commitments.
Most Americans – 54 percent in 2010, a decline from 57 percent in 2000 – do end up marrying eventually, although the number of those who don’t has been ticking higher each year. But those who do get married tend to remain married, at least for awhile. Three out of four couples that married in 1990 stayed married for at least 10 years, an increase from those who married in the early 1980s, when the country’s divorce rate was at its peak.