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Half of First Marriages Don't Last 20 Years


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Updated: 11/14/2012 12:28 pm Published: 8/20/2012 4:22 pm


March 22, 2012 -- The trend toward delaying first marriages continues in the U.S., with couples increasingly choosing to live together before saying “I do,” the CDC reports.

Between 1982 and 2010, the percentage of women under the age of 45 living with a partner outside of marriage nearly quadrupled, from 3% to 11%, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

The new report on first marriage trends confirms that the dramatic changes in marriage seen in the latter half of the 20th century continued into the first decade of the 21st, researchers say.

People are marrying for the first time at older ages, higher education remains a strong predictor of marriage success, and about half of first marriages still end in divorce, says Casey E. Copen, PhD, of the NCHS.

And while both men and women are getting married later, most have tied the knot at least once by the time they reach their mid-40s.

“This suggests that women and men are postponing marriage, but not forgoing it,” Copen tells WebMD.

Women and Men Delaying First Marriages

The new report compares findings from a nationally representative survey of women and men ages 15-44 conducted between 2006 and 2010 to survey data collected in 1982, 1995, and 2002.

Among the key findings:

  • The median age at first marriage in the latest survey was around 26 for women and 28 for men.
  • 56% of first marriages among men and 52% among women now end in the first two decades.
  • In the latest survey, 38% of women under age 45 reported never having been married, compared to 33% in 1995.
  • By age 40, close to 9 out of 10 women and 8 out of 10 men will have married at least once.

Education, Ethnicity, and Marriage

The report also highlighted differences in marriage trends by ethnicity and education.

In the latest survey, African-American women were most likely to report having never been married (55%), followed by U.S.-born Hispanic women (49%), Asian women (39%), and white women (34%).

Around 2 out of 3 women (63%) whose educational achievements included a master’s degree or higher were married for the first time, compared to 58% of women with a bachelor’s degree and 37% of women without a high school diploma or GED.

Other key findings by ethnicity and education:

  • More than 2 out of 3 Asian women (69%) were likely to still be married after 20 years, compared to around half of white women (54%) and just over a third (37%) of African-American women.
  • Among men, foreign-born Hispanic men were among the most likely to stay married, with a 70% probability of a first marriage lasting two decades (compared to a 54% and 53% probability for white and African-American men, respectively).
  • Education appeared to have a big influence on marriage longevity. Women with college degrees had a 78% probability of remaining married for two decades, compared to a 41% probability for women who completed high school but did not go to college.

The report confirms earlier research showing that highly educated women are more likely to delay first marriages, but they are also more likely to remain married once they tie the knot.

The report appears in the March 22 National Health Statistics Report, published by the CDC.


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