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Ethics & Religion
Column #2,108
January 6, 2022
Marriage Is Disappearing
By Mike McManus

There has been a 60% drop in the marriage rate in recent decades. Marriages are at the lowest rate in recorded history.

Of those born in 1940, about 83% were married by age 30. Among those born in 1980 only 25% were married by age 30.

Why is marriage important? Married couples are happier, healthier and live longer than singles. And their children are happier and more successful than those of unmarried parents.

However, the U.S. marriage rate has fallen to its lowest level in 120 years, after having declined steadily since the 1980s. There were 16 marriages per 1,000 people in 1946, but only seven per 1,000 from 2009-2017.

The median age for women to marry has increased sharply from only age 20 in 1960 to 27 in 2017; the average male who marries has jumped from age 22 to 29.

When a high school teacher polled her class on marriage, a majority said they never wanted to marry. Why? They said they "had never seen one that worked."

While roughly half of Americans are married today, that figure is down from 72% in 1960. The percentage of never-married Americans aged 30-44 tripled from only 6.8% in 1970 to 20.4% in 2003.

Instead of marrying, millions of couples are just living together. The number of cohabiting couples has soared more than 20 fold - from only 430,000 living together in 1950 to 9 million. Furthermore, the 9 million figure only represents the number cohabiting in a given month. Over a year, that figure may be 12 to 15 million.

In November Pew reported that more people had lived with a romantic partner (59%) than had been married (50%).

Why are so many couples cohabiting?

First, many colleges have coed dorms - which was unthinkable decades ago. I attended Duke University in the 1960s when men lived on one campus, and women, on another nearly two miles away.

By high school graduation 47% of students have already had sex. This is a sharp contrast with the 1960s when more than 40% of women who married were virgins.

Therefore young couples today view cohabitation as simply extended dating. Not even clergy call cohabitation "living in sin" anymore. Our culture accepts cohabitation as the new norm. When I was in Tampa Bay 20 years ago, I asked dozens of clergy, "How many couples coming to you asking to be married are living together." In a chorus, they replied 70% to 75%."

The rationale for living together given by most couples is that cohabitation gives them an opportunity to test the relationship. "Let's try and see if it works out." Many call it a "trial marriage."

Another rationale is "We can save money if we live together." True, the cost of living is less per person if two people are sharing the bills for rent, etc.

Sex is obviously a major reason why couples live together. The bond of physical intimacy is so great that the couples consider living apart to be foolish. But as one marriage educator put it, "You can't practice permanence."

Couples are confusing sex for love. Why do so few cohabitations move on to marriage? About two-thirds of cohabitants do not marry. The average length of living arrangements among cohabiting college students is only seven months.

Since 1990 the marriage rate has fallen by nearly 40% from 9.8 marriages per 1,000 population to only 6.1 marriages per 1,000 in 2019.

A major reason is that few cohabiting couples marry.

However, there is some good news. The divorce rate has been falling in recent years and hit an all-time low in 2019. For every 1,000 marriages in the last year only 14.9 ended in divorce. It is the lowest rate in 50 years.

My wife and I personally mentored 60 premarital couples over two decades. A fifth of them decided not to marry. All were sexually active. But we asked them to halt sexual relations until their wedding. Forty couples did so. Playing by Scriptural rules paid off. We know of only one divorce after 20 years.

What I find distressing is how few religious leaders are speaking out against cohabitation, and in favor of traditional marriage. I do not know of one Catholic bishop, Methodist bishop or Episcopal bishop who has taken a clear stand. Nor a major Southern Baptist or Congregational leader who has done so.

It is time for religious leaders and pastors to take a clear stand against cohabitation, and to teach how to build a marriage for life.


Copyright (c)2022 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.


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