Living Together Trumps Matrimony for Recession-Wary Americans

The probability of a woman getting married by age 25 dropped to less than half as more Americans opt to cohabitate with their romantic partners rather than tie the knot, a U.S. government study shows.

The proportion of women living with men without marriage almost quadrupled to 11 percent as of 2010 from 3 percent in 1982, according to data released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For men, the proportion rose to 12 percent in 2010 from 9 percent in 2002, said Casey Copen, a demographer at the National Center for Health Statistics.

The shift toward premarital living arrangements contributed to the delay in first marriage for both women and men. The recession that started in 2007 also may have played a role as young couples avoided the commitment because of unemployment and uncertain financial security. In 2006-2010, women and men married for the first time at older ages than in previous years.

“In today’s economic climate, many young adults are reluctant to pull the trigger,” said W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, which monitors the health of marriage. “They may be unemployed or underemployed or not know what the future looks like. They’re hedging their bets.”

The median age at first marriage was 25.8 for women and 28.3 for men, according to the Atlanta-based CDC, which studied 12,279 women and 10,403 men 15 to 44 years of age. The proportion of women who had never married at the time of being interviewed rose to 38 percent in the 2006-2010 period from 34 percent in 1982.

Age-25 Marriage Drops

The probability of a woman marrying by age 25 fell to 44 percent from 59 percent in 1995.

“Despite high expectations that they will eventually marry, young adults in the U.S. are postponing first marriage,” the CDC said. “Cohabitation has increasingly become the first co-residential union formed among young adults in the U.S.”

Among women, 68 percent of unions formed in 1997-2001 began as living together rather than as marriage. For men, living together was most common among foreign-born Hispanics at 20 percent, followed by 15 percent of U.S.-born Hispanic men.

About 10 percent of men with a bachelor’s degree were currently cohabiting compared to 27 percent of men with less than a high school education.

Fifty five percent of black women and 49 percent of U.S.- born Hispanic women had never married in 2006-2010, the CDC said. The proportion was 39 percent among Asian women and 34 percent for white women.

Education and Marriage

Those with more education were more likely to be in their first marriage. The proportion of women currently married for the first time was 37 percent among those without a high school or equivalent diploma, compared with 63 percent of those with a master’s degree or higher.

When it comes to marriages ending, the probability of a first marriage lasting for at least 10 years was 68 percent for women and 70 percent for men in 2006-2010, and drops to about 50 percent at 20 years.

That’s virtually the same as estimates from the early 1970s, according to the report. Marriage ends because of divorce, separation and sometimes by death. Women and men who lived with both biological parents at age 14 had a higher probability of a first marriage lasting 20 years.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Armour in Washington at sarmour@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Romaine Bostick at rbostick@bloomberg.net

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