The proportion of adults in the United States who are married has plummeted to a record low, according to new data released by the Pew Research Center. Just 51 percent of Americans are bound by matrimony, making married people "nearly a minority." What's behind the shifting stats? Here, a guide:
This is a record low?
Yes. The proportion of Americans who are married has been falling precipitously. In 1960, 72 percent were married, but by 2000, that statistic was only 57 percent, says Carol Morello at The Washington Post. The decline has been especially sharp in recent years. Between 2009 and 2010 alone, the rate declined by 5 percent. Also significant: Over 40 percent of adults under the age of 30 view marriage as an anachronistic institution. "They see it as an obsolete social environment," says Pew researcher D'Vera Cohn. Even people who say they want to get married are less likely to take the plunge.
What's the reason for the drop?
A number of factors are at play. For one, the median age at which people get married for the first time is at an all-time high: 26.5 for brides and 28.7 for grooms. This tendency to delay marriage means that only 20 percent of adults aged 18 to 29 are married today, compared with almost 60 percent in 1960. The stagnant economy has also exacerbated the drop, says Greg Howard at Slate. More people than ever — 7.5 million — are living together out of wedlock, an increase of 13 percent in just one year. "In many cases, the two couldn't afford to maintain two homes, so they shacked up without tying the knot."
Is marriage doomed?
Not quite. A majority of those who are unmarried — 61 percent — still want to get married, "even some of those who don't have a very rosy view of the institution," says Belinda Luscombe at TIME. Nearly half of those who think that "marriage is becoming obsolete" still aspire to marriage at some point. Furthermore, marriage is going strong in some social spheres. "Most college graduates will marry, eventually," says Morello. Two-thirds of those with degrees are currently married.
Could this dip be a good thing?
Perhaps, says Luscombe. These statistics may not signal the end of marriage entirely, but instead "the end of fewer marriages." Arguably, people "are being more judicious before they jump into a binding lifelong contract," while marriage is "losing its status as a social obligation." That "probably means fewer divorces."