June 20 2013

Marriage on the Upswing?

Patrice J. Lee

It’s no surprise that the marriage rate in the United States is at its lowest level, but new analysis suggests that by the end of the decade we can expect a small boom in nuptials.

Pent-up demand from millennials (18-34 year olds) who have delayed marriage because of the economic downturn or for other pursuits appear to be the drivers of this expected increase. That’s me and many of my colleagues and classmates.

What do the numbers have to say?

The company projects a 4% increase in the number of weddings since 2009, reaching 2.168 million this year; 2.189 million in 2014. Depending on the economic recovery, the report projects a continuing increase to 2.208 million in 2015.

Delving a little deeper into the demographic differences, we learn that marriage numbers are rising among college-educated and affluent women ages 25-34. It’s not surprising to see this trend. Young women at these ages have likely secured their education and are established themselves firmly enough in their careers to turn to activities they’ve postponed, including marriage and starting families.

(By the way, IWF led a great discussion last month about the realities of women balancing work and family. Click here to check it out.)

Here is one take on the putative marriage revival:

"Given the drop in marriage rates, it's surprising to see a group project an increase," says sociologist Andrew Cherlin, director of the Hopkins Population Center at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "But it makes sense.

"If you're going to get married in time to have kids, you can't wait forever, so they may be saying that the postponement of marriages is running its course, and a backlog of young adults is about to schedule their weddings," he says.

The wedding backlog sociologists referred may have started previously and been interrupted because of the economic downturn.

If you remember, just prior to the recession weddings occupied so much TV airtime from contests on morning programs to shows devoted to the over-the-top nuptials. Outdoing the next couple was the order of the day with “bling” being the theme of the year –every year.

Then the bottom fell out of the stock market and the economy tumbled. Suddenly, frugality replaced opulence and many couples –actually brides– who envisioned grand ballrooms, down-payment priced gowns and jewel encrusted everything put their wedding dreams on hold.

Encouraging economic news is drawing couples out of hiding.

If you look at date from the Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends, there is good news and bad news for marriage:  In 2011, Pew found that the average age at which men and women marry for the first time was hitting record levels (28.7 for men and 26.5 for women). Pew also found that 39% of Americans say they agree that marriage is becoming obsolete.

But here is the good news for marriage: most people who had never married say they would like to marry someday (including many who agree that marriage is becoming obsolete!).  One impediment to marriage: the acceptance of cohabitation, either before marriage or in place of marriage, signals a subtle cultural change that an improving economy or career security cannot easily overcome.

However, marriage has been the bedrock institution of society, and therefore we can hope that it is on the upswing.

 

 

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