World

U.S. marriages at record low

The number of Americans getting married is at an all-time low, in line with other countries, and are also waiting longer to marry for the first time.

'People are no longer following some lockstep script about when it is time to get married': prof

Britain's Prince William was 28 and Kate Middleton was 29 when they married at Westminster Abbey in London in April. Statistics indicate the age at which people marry for the first time is rising, to the late 20s and early 30s. (Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press)

The number of Americans getting married is at an all-time low, in line with other countries, and are also waiting longer to marry for the first time.

The U.S. Census Bureau, in the first analysis of its kind, reported Thursday from Washington that as a whole, since 1970, the median age men get married has risen from 22.5 to 28.4, while women are becoming first-time brides at 26.5 on average, compared to 20.6.

The percentage of women getting married in their teens has also declined since 1970, according to the latest figures, based on 2009 data. 

International figures indicate a distinct trend in waiting longer to legally become man and wife.

According to Statistics Canada, for instance, in 2003, when Ontario and British Columbia became the first two provinces to legalize same-sex marriage, the average age of marriage to someone of the opposite sex was 30.6 years for men and 28.5 years for women — an increase of about five years for both sexes since 1973.

In 2002, the average age of marriage in Canada was 30.4 years for men and 28.3 years for women, according to the data released in 2007.

In countries including the United Kingdom, Austria, Norway, Hong Kong and China, first-time marriages are now in the late 20s for women and early 30s for men.

The U.S. data released Thursday also found:

  • In 1970, more than half of men, 57 per cent, were between 20 and 24 when they first married. By 2009, 24 per cent were marrying between 20 and 24, 34 per cent between 25 and 29, 20 per cent between 30 and 34, and nine per cent between 35 and 39.
  • For women in 1970, 42 per cent were teens when they married, and by 24, about 88 per cent had a first marriage. By 2009, the shares had dropped to seven per cent and 38 per cent, respectively.

Sociologists and others who track marriage trends say the changing family makeup, more social acceptibility of living together and having children out of wedlock, and fear of becoming part of the rising number of divorces are largely behind the delay-marriage trend.

Marriages at record low

Analysts also say younger people, in particular, may be increasingly choosing to delay marriage as they struggle to find work and resist making long-term commitments in the recent recession.

"People are no longer following some lockstep script about when it is time to get married," said Pamela Smock, a sociology professor at the University of Michigan.

As a whole, U.S. marriages are now at a record low, with just 52 per cent of adults 18 and over saying they were joined in wedlock, compared to 57 per cent in 2000, according to the U.S. census data. The never-married included 46.3 per cent of young adults 25-34 — the first time the share of never-married young adults exceeded those who were married, 44.9 per cent, with the rest being divorced or widowed.

The number of marriages North America-wide has been declining for years, due to rising divorce, more unmarried couples living together and increased job prospects for women.

A study released in 2010  by the Vanier Institute of the Family in Ottawa concluded the traditional definition of family is changing in Canada, with four in 10 first marriages ending in divorce.

For the first time in Canadian history, the institute reported, there were more unmarried people than legally married people age 15 and over in the country, says the study based on data from the 2006 census.

With files from The Associated Press