U.S. marriage prospects at historical low, study finds

Americans are less likely to be married today than at any time in the nation’s history, according to a new survey and data analysis from the Pew Research Center.

Only 52 percent of U.S. adults 18 and older were married in 2008, compared with 58 percent in 1990 and 72 percent in 1960, according to the Pew survey, conducted in partnership with Time magazine and released Thursday.

Over the last five decades, the percentage of adults in the U.S. who were separated or divorced nearly tripled from 5 percent in 1960 to 14 percent in 2008.

And the percentage of adults who never married increased from 15 percent in 1960 to 27 percent in 2008, according to the Pew report.

Increasingly, Americans are having their first marriage later in life than they used to or not marrying at all.

Just 26 percent of those in their 20s were married in 2008, compared with 68 percent who were married in their 20s in 1960.

These trends are reflected in the public’s attitude toward marriage, with 39 percent of the respondents in the Pew/Time survey saying that they believe marriage is obsolete. Back in 1978, when the U.S. divorce rate was near its all-time high, Time magazine posed that question in a survey of registered voters but only 28 percent of respondents said they believed marriage to be obsolete.

One corollary of the decline in marriage has been an astronomic rise in the percentage of U.S. children born to unmarried mothers over the last five decades.

In 2008, 41 percent of children were born to unmarried mothers, compared with just 5 percent in 1960, according to the Pew report.

Marriage is significantly more likely among college graduates than those without any college experience, while black adults are about 43 percent less likely to be married than white adults.

The marriage gap based on education or race has widened significantly over the years, according to the Pew report.

Among adults, both married and single, the top reasons for getting married are love, followed by making a lifelong commitment and companionship.

Here are links to the full Pew report and the Time magazine article.

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