Is marriage dying?

The Guardian reports today that the marriage rate in the UK has fallen to its lowest level since the mid-19th century.

The trend is familiar to the U.S., where marriage rates have been falling for some time. In Minnesota, for example, the latest statistics show six people per thousand married in 2004, compared to 7.7 in 1990.

So what?

In the Boston Globe today, columnist Stephen Bailey says increasing single-parenthood is creating a separate-but-equal society in America:

Andy Sum has spent years documenting rising inequality in America and has come to believe that what has happened to families is at the heart of it. What the numbers show, he says, is increasing single-parenthood, limited earnings among single moms, declining earnings and rate of marriage among men with no post-secondary schooling, and the tendency for college-educated young adults to marry one another, what the sociologists call “assortative mating.” MBAs marry MBAs; nobody is interested in rescuing Cinderella any more.

  • Tyler Suter

    The term dying may not be quite the term I would use, but I do believe that marriage is no longer portrayed as the inevitable phase of life that is once was. The generation that, if you will, is primed for church bells and rice throwing, my generation (Y), grew up in households that yielded a divorce rate of around 50%. With that said, it is not difficult to see why marriage is no longer such an attractive preamble to adult life. Other contributing factors may include, the current worldwide state of affairs, a faltering economy (maybe not an explanation for current trends, but more so in the future), uncertainty in such governmental programs as social security and healthcare, and possibly that my generation craves instant gratification with minimal commitment. And as a contextual note, many of the aforementioned factors were stated with the assumption that marriage leads to starting a family.

    I’m sure that there will be negative impacts as a result of downward spiraling marriage rates and maybe these trends will turn into tendencies, but it could just be possible that people aren’t in such a rush to get married and later divorced; maybe even married again. If so, maybe we can chip away at that divorce rate before it hits an even 1.

  • Alison

    If you believe the critics it must be gay marriage that is to blame. Of course! If gays can do it I sure wouldn’t want to.

    On to a less sarcarstic point. I doubt it is a big part of the trend, but I do wonder how much of the trend might be attributed to the increased acceptance of gay people recently. There certainly are fewer people hiding their sexual identity by marrying someone to whom they are not attracted (and trapping straigt spouses in disfunctional marriages).

  • Daveg

    And, of course, men must now take the Heather Mills factor into account.

    It’s awfully, awfully easy to lose it all these days, and with the primary benefit of marriage from the male’s point of view being commonly available sans commitment (thanks feminists!), the risk/benefit analysis falls solidly on the side of bachelorhood.

  • brian

    That assumes the Man is the one that has the fortune to loose. The same is true for a wealthy woman.

    I have a feeling rich men could get all the “benefits” they wanted without commitment long before feminists.

  • Snuffy

    I don’t know enough about the studies to speak definitively, but I wonder if some of the decrease in marriages is related to the population getting older. Are the baby boomers moving out of the “marrying” stage and into the “already married” or “won’t ever get married” stages?

  • Bob Collins

    I’m surprised nobody has brought up this possibility. People want multiple spouses over the course of a lifetime and they define spouses in terms other than a legal union.

  • Tyler Suter

    Mr Collins, my personal opinion is that the desire to have many spouses without entering into a civil union is enough to make a difference on a smaller scale, but I don’t believe it could account for the magnitude of shifting trends discussed above. I could be wrong, but I think that explaination, and many of the factors discussed here, is a result of an underlying social attitude/movement that is causing the shift in marriage trends (what explains why we are motivated to do something). Because I work in market research, I’m always trying to break it down to the base motives that cause these ripples. If you could find the social attitude that is prompting many to seek multiple spouses void of civil union, I think then you may be on to something very insightful; something that could link all these subfactors and fully explain why. Any people who specialize in brain chemistry or social movement in here?

  • bsimon

    “People want multiple spouses over the course of a lifetime and they define spouses in terms other than a legal union.”

    Or they want fewer spouses over the course of a lifetime. Might people be waiting longer to get married in order to stay married, rather than get married quick, get divorced quick & remarry?

    Bob says, at the top, that “In Minnesota, for example, the latest statistics show six people per thousand married in 2004, compared to 7.7 in 1990.”

    We’d know more if we knew how many of these were 1st time marriages & compared that figure to 1990. Based on the data, we don’t know if people are just not getting married, or just not getting married multiple times, or staying married to the first spouse. Or aging past the marrying age.

  • Tyler Suter

    Good point.

  • Tyler Suter

    Also, I think the most worrisome trend cited is in regards to the “MBAs marry MBAs.” That perpetuates the iniquitous gap between rich and poor (educated and uneducated).

  • Alison

    Tyler – Don’t you think marraiges between those of similar education levels might be more stable?

  • c

    I think the mba + mba is not for all mba’s but perhaps a catagory. Maybe an mba would consider a non-mba for their personality or their money or huh, their appearance. We are people.

    I think you could make one of your pie graphs, bar charts and you could make conclusions from the data but it doesn’t mean anything concrete.

  • Tyler Suter


    You’ll have to expand on what you mean by stable, but I think in any case, stable is not necessarily the right thing for an increasingly segregated (not necessarily racially) society. Personally speaking, I tend to date those of comparable edcational standing, so in no way am I pointing fingers, but it does worry me that we are creating this wedge between those in this country who are educated and those who are not.

    And speaking expressly to the issue of stability, I’m very curious as to how you define stable (what that entails) and why you feel a marriage between two MBAs would be more stable than a marriage between an individual with his/her MBA and a spouse with only his/her high school diploma. I don’t necessarily disagree, but I’d like to better understand the statement.

    Finally, “c”, your point is valid and I understand it on a personal level, but it does not change the fact that we are creating an aristocratic segment of the population that will continually perpetuate this social gap and establish two mutually exclusive classes.

    ~~ Sorry for hogging this topic, it is just that I am very stimulated by the topic ~~

  • c

    Tyler I appreciate your sincere input. But I think the theory of likes attract likes has been going on for a long time and some of us calls this the “Universal Law”

    I follow with MBA+MBA like artist+artist, how often do you see a super sized cerebral left brainer with a right brain?

  • Tyler Suter

    I know that my ideals sometimes (possibly often) cloud reality. I just wish there was a way to overcome these universal shackles; and no I am not an advocate of communism if I come off that way. Thanks for keeping me humble C.

  • brian

    I know this isn’t universally true, but a lot of my friends are dating/married to people they met in college. It seems logical to me that a lot of people meet in college and so marry someone with that same education level.

  • c


    If anyone would be labeled a communist it would be me, (even though I am not.) Ideals that I like I have been told by my very right winged parents, are socialist. When I have a gripe about certain issues I don’t like, I have been told by those same Wingers, (whom I love dearly), “Well that is Capitalism” Maybe folks don’t get married because there is not enough common ground…where there is maybe during college like Brian says.

    Or maybe the simple truth is that it is just too damn expensive to get married.

  • Tyler Suter

    I could be wrong, but it seems that some of these figures are a result of people not getting married in or soon after college. It seems to me that fewer and fewer are marrying those that they are going or previously went to college with. But I did just finish with undergraduate school, so I guess I shouldn’t talk till after grad school.