A treasure trove of data about the state of our unions was released recently by the federal government.
Let's do a teaser quiz:
• Is it true that a lot of Americans are still single by their early 40s?
• Are there a lot of "cougars" — i.e., older women in search of younger husbands — prowling around out there?
• Who is more likely to be a serial cohabiter, a man or a woman?
• Is a husband or a live-in boyfriend more likely to have a job?
• Big bonus question: Does cohabiting mean wedding bells are going to ring soon?
Answers can be found in a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics, which recently issued a report called "Marriage and Cohabitation in the United States: A Statistical Portrait Based on Cycle 6 (2002) of the National Survey of Family Growth."
The 2002 national survey captured data from about 12,500 people — including men, for the first time. The age range for participants was 15 to 44.
• Who's still single by their early 40s? Relatively few Americans, although the number of bachelors is almost twice that of bachelorettes, the new report says.
Just 8 percent of women in the 40-to-44 age range said they had never married, as well as 14 percent of men in that category. Instead, the vast majority of people in their early 40s — 67 percent of women and 63 percent of men — were currently married.
• Regarding cougar time: Yes, there are lots of comedy skits and advertising jokes about gorgeous, alluring older women pursuing (and marrying) handsome younger guys. Actress Demi Moore (born 1962) has made it seem especially sweet and easy with husband Ashton Kutcher (born 1978).
The reality is that Demis are rare.
The vast majority of wives (67 percent) have husbands who are at least one year older than them.
Of the 20 percent of wives with younger husbands, just 2 percent have Ashton Kutchers, i.e., mates who are seven years or more younger.
Men, on the other hand, continue to be much more successful in landing younger partners. About 59 percent of husbands had younger wives, and almost 9 percent had wives at least seven years their junior. Some things don't change.
• Which gender is more prone to cohabiting? Survey says: It's the men.
Taken as a whole (and after age 25), about 60 percent of both men and women say they have ever lived with a lover sans marriage. Most say they have done this with only one partner.
But when it comes to serial cohabiting, men are clearly more likely to have a collection of house keys: Around 8 percent of women in their 30s and 40s reported having had three or more cohabiting partners, compared with about 17 percent of men the same ages. Ladies, cohabiting isn't as equitable as you might think.
• Which leads to the question about who's more likely to help pay the bills, a husband or a boyfriend? Answer: The husband. Just 8 percent of wives reported unemployed husbands (this was in pre-recession 2002) compared to 15 percent of cohabiting women who reported partners with no paychecks.
(Side note: Almost the same amount of husbands and cohabiting men — 68 percent and 67 percent, respectively — said their women worked.)
• Now to the big bonus question: Is cohabiting an automatic prelude to marriage? Answer: For couples whose relationship makes it past the first anniversary, about half will transition to marriage by the third year.
Cohabiting-to-marriage was especially likely if both partners are white, college graduates, grew up with their own two parents, didn't start living together until after age 26 and aren't parents already.
Food for thought in these nontraditional times.
• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.