- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2007

In the 1960s and 1970s, most men were husbands by age 30 and most women were wives by age 25.

New census data show times have changed: These days, instead of 80 percent of men under 30 tying the knot with their sweethearts, only 64 percent do so.

The same is true for women: Instead of 80 percent becoming blushing brides by age 25, the number now is closer to 50 percent.

There is ongoing debate about whether this trend of “delayed marriage” is a problem or not — especially when so many twenty-somethings are getting college degrees, holding down jobs or exploring the world.

“We have to ask ourselves, honestly — does this trend disturb us? If so, why?” writes Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a research professor at Clark University and editor of the Journal of Adolescent Research.

“Nearly all of the emerging adults I’ve encountered in my work want to get married, eventually, and nearly all of them will,” says Mr. Arnett, author of “Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road From the Late Teens Through the Twenties.”

“By the time they turn 30, most of them grow weary of the instability of emerging adulthood and are ready to make more enduring commitments in love and work,” he writes.

But sociology professor emeritus David Popenoe worries.

The vast majority of U.S. high school seniors — 82 percent of girls and 70 percent of boys — say that “having a good marriage and family life” is “extremely important,” Mr. Popenoe says in the 2007 “State of Our Unions” report from the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University.

“But as high schoolers reach young adulthood, when the attraction of cohabitation and career gains strong currency, making the actual commitment to marriage is not easy,” writes Mr. Popenoe, co-director of the project.

In addition, he warns, “getting people to marry is one thing, helping them to stay married is something else entirely.” Mr. Popenoe’s solutions include a vigorous support of marriage education and a pro-marriage culture.

The new census data come from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), which collected information from 43,700 housing units in 2004.

The new SIPP didn’t have “radical changes” from the previous survey taken in 2001, says census analyst Rose Kreider. Instead, marriage and divorce trends seem to be “in a holding pattern.”

The new data show that:

c The number of teen marriages has fallen sharply over time: In the 1960s and 1970s, almost half of women married by their 20th birthday, as did 20 percent of teenage men. By 2004, only 14 percent of teenage women and 7 percent of teenage men had married.

c Of all the adults who had ever married, 58 percent of women and 54 percent of men were married to their original spouses in 2004.

c In 2004, ex-wives were slightly more likely than ex-husbands to marry a second time (13 percent to 12 percent), but remarriage for a third time was unlikely for either sex: Barely 3 percent of men and women married three or more times.

WEDDING SNAPSHOTS

In 2004, the majority of adult Americans had been married, most of them one time, new census data show.

MEN

Never married: 31.2 percent

Ever married: 68.8 percent

(Married once: 54 percent)

(Married twice: 11.8 percent)

(Married three or more times: 3.1 percent)

Ever divorced: 20.7 percent

Ever widowed: 3.6 percent

WOMEN

Never married: 25.8 percent

Ever married: 74.2 percent

(Married once: 57.9 percent)

(Married twice: 13.2 percent)

(Married three or more times: 3.1 percent)

Ever divorced: 22.9 percent

Ever widowed: 10.8 percent

Source: Survey of Income and Program Participation, U.S. Census Bureau

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