The proportion of adults who are married has plunged to record lows as more people decide to live together now and wed later, reflecting decades of evolving attitudes about the role of marriage in society.
Just 51 percent of all adults who are 18 and older are married, placing them on the brink of becoming a minority, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of census statistics to be released Wednesday. That represents a steep drop from 57 percent who were married in 2000.
Maryland is a little below the national average, at 50 percent, while Virginia is a little higher, at 54 percent, and both are declining. But in the District, which experienced an influx of young adults over the past decade, only one in four adults is married while more than half have never wed.
The statistics offer a snapshot in time, and do not mean the unmarried will remain that way. They are a byproduct of a steady increase in the median age when people first marry, now at an all-time high of older than 26 for women and almost 29 for men.
“I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want to get married someday,” said Kate Shorr, 30, a lawyer and lobbyist who until recently wrote a blog about her social life in Washington, A Single Girl Doing Single Things. “All of us want to meet that special person and marry, but there’s no real rush to do that. Especially in the career-driven society we have here. You don’t move to Washington, D.C., to get married, you move here for your career.”
The marriage patterns are a striking departure from the middle of the 20th century, when the percentage of adults who never wed was in the low single digits. In 1960, for example, when most baby boomers were children, 72 percent of all adults were married. The median age for brides was barely 20, and the grooms were just a couple of years older.
“In the 1950s, if you weren’t married, people thought you were mentally ill,” said Andrew J. Cherlin, a Johns Hopkins University sociologist who studies families. “Marriage was mandatory. Now it’s culturally optional.”
The decline in marriage rates has affected people in every age and ethnic group, but it has been steepest among the young.
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