Reviews | Marriage is in decline in America


When I was young, everything in society seemed to tend towards marriage. It was the wait. It was the inevitability. You would like – and should – meet someone, get married and have a family. It was the way it always had been, and always would be.

But even then, the share of married people was already decreasing. In the year I was born, 1970, the percentage of Americans between the ages of 25 and 50 who had never married was only 9%. By the time I became an adult, that number was approaching 20 percent.

Some people were delaying marriage. But others gave it up altogether.

This trend is only continuing and we are now approaching a milestone. This month, the Pew Research Center released an analysis of census data showing that in 2019, the share of U.S. adults who were neither married nor living with a partner had risen to 38%, and although this group “includes some adults who were previously married (those who are separated, divorced or widowed), all the growth in the single population since 1990 is due to the increase in the number of those who have never been married.

This follows data released by the National Center for Health Statistics last year, which showed marriage rates in 2018 to have hit an all-time high.

We are approaching a time when there will be more single adults in the United States than married adults, a development with huge implications for how we define family and adulthood in general, as well as the way we structure taxation and benefits.

Of course, the unmarried and unmarried portions of the population vary across demographic groups. As Pew pointed out:

Among those aged 25 to 54, 59% of black adults were not in a relationship in 2019. This is more than the proportions among Hispanic (38%), White (33%) and Asian (29%) adults. ). For most racial and ethnic groups, men are more likely than women to be alone. The exception is black adults, where women (62%) are more likely not to have a partner than men (55%).

As a society, we need to start asking ourselves whether it is fair and just to continue to reward and encourage marriage through taxation and politics when fewer people – disproportionately black people – are choosing. marriage or find acceptable partnerships.

Is marriage still the ideal? And should singles pay a one-time tax – part of what Lisa Arnold and Christina Campbell of The Atlantic in 2013 called “institutionalized singlism” – not to pursue it?

In 2013, when Arnold and Campbell were finishing their analysis, they found that “over the course of their lifetime, unmarried people can pay up to $ 1 million more than their married counterparts for health care, taxes. and more “.

I was married. I’m not anymore. I don’t see remarriage in my future. It is not an ambition that I have. And I see nothing wrong with that. But I am also very aware of the nudge of those around me who are married or aspire to be married and who mistakenly assume that a possible marriage is the only way to be truly happy and whole, to have completed the life checklist. I reprimand it all.

To each their own, I say. And that includes happy single and happily married people who don’t want to get married.

When children are involved, there is a clear argument that they benefit from more parenting responsibilities and more money. It doesn’t necessarily mean marriage, but it often does. As the Brookings Institution explained in 2014:

Children raised by married parents do better in school, develop stronger cognitive and non-cognitive skills, are more likely to go to college, earn more, and are more likely to form stable marriages themselves. Using our own criteria for success at different stages of life, developed as part of the Brookings Social Genome Model (now a partnership with the Urban Institute and Child Trends), we find similar models.

But what about adults who do not have children or whose children are now adults?

Paul Dolan, a behavior specialist at the London School of Economics, argues that while men, on the whole, might benefit from marriage because it calms them down and makes them take less risk, women, again in the together do not receive the same benefits. On the contrary, according to Dolan, the happiest subgroup are those women who never marry or have children.

This, of course, could be debated until we were all blue. There are a lot of responsible men who don’t need a wedding ring as a foothold, and there are a lot of married mothers who would say their families are the lights of their lives.

But the point remains: marriage as the dominant ideal is losing its grip. And the stigma of being single is also losing its grip, as it should. Now, government policy that rewards married people while punishing single people must also ease.

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