When Will Everyone I Know Be Married?

 From FiveThirtyEight.com

It’s not just your friends. From the time they’re in their early 20s, Americans start marrying at a faster rate, so lots of people your age will notice a similar trend. If being unmarried right now makes you uncomfortable, I’m afraid it only gets worse. See where the curve gets above 50 percent? It shows that unmarried 33-year-old men are in the minority — more men their age are married than not.1


But I can offer you a few words of consolation if you’re stressing. First of all, things could change. All this data is based on the marital status of the U.S. population in 2013 (including same-sex marriages in the states that allowed it then) according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. It’s a snapshot, not a projection. The lines in the chart above could look different in the future. The Urban Institute reckons that late millennials (that’s you, Ian) are less likely than members of previous generations to be married by age 40.

It’s not just your generation, though; U.S. marriage habits have changed a lot over the past 70 years for all age groups. In 1940, the typical age window for marriage was pretty narrow — just 11 percent of 20-year-old men were married, but 58 percent of 26-year-old men were — that’s visible in how steep the curve is. By 2013, that window had widened, and the curve flattened out — American men got married at an older age and at a slower rate, and the percentage of men who were married was no longer above 80 percent for any age group.


The curve also gets flatter over time for women. But you’ll spot a big difference between the chart for American women and the one for American men. The share of U.S. women who are married drops off pretty steeply in later life (it used to do so when women were in their 50s; now it happens when they’re in their late 70s). In 2013, the age when the largest share of women were married was 48 (when 62.3 percent of women were wedded), but for men it was way, way later — 70 years old (when 74.5 percent of men were married). That’s likely due to a combination of divorce and death. The drop happens for men, too, but later in life. That’s because women tend to marry at a younger age, marry older men and live longer.


That hill means that if you don’t plan to ever get married, at some point you’ll be in the majority again (provided you live long enough). Some people never get married — as of 2013, 4.6 percent of women and 4.3 percent of men 70 and older had never been married.

Again, though, I reckon that by the time you’re 70, those numbers could look different. The chart below from the Census Bureau shows the median age at which people in the U.S. first get married, and how it’s changed over the past 120 years. In the early part of the 20th century, people were getting married younger and younger, but since at least 1970, there’s been a steady increase in the age at first marriage for both men and women.


Not all marriages last, and there’s also Census Bureau data from 2009 on the median age that Americans got divorced from their first spouses (32.0 years for men, 30.1 years for women) and got married for the second time (35.8 years for men, 33.3 years for women).

Those numbers are relevant because remarriage is pretty common. As of 2013, 16.5 percent of men and 17.9 percent of women 18 and older had been married two or more times (3.6 percent of men and 3.8 percent of women 18 and older had been married three or more times).

Finally, Ian, I tried to find international data on the age that people get married. I didn’t have great success. As part of its project on gender statistics, the World Bank tracks the average age that men and women in 214 countries and territories marry for the first time. Not every country submits data every year, though, and the most recent data, from 2011, covers just 25 countries and territories (and doesn’t include the U.S.).

Ireland 31.8 33.0
Germany 31.7 34.1
Netherlands 31.5 33.9
Greenland 31.4 33.7
Austria 31.0 33.6
Denmark 31.0 32.8
Slovenia 30.7 33.2
South Africa 30.6 33.0
Czech Republic 30.2 32.6
Latvia 29.9 32.4
Lithuania 29.1 31.7
Cyprus 27.9 30.8
Macao SAR, China 27.7 29.5
Chile 27.4 29.3
Romania 26.6 29.8
Bulgaria 26.2 29.8
Albania 25.1 29.2
Uruguay 24.8 27.0
Costa Rica 23.9 27.0
Iran 23.5 26.8
Cameroon 21.3 27.0
Ethiopia 21.2 25.7
Uganda 20.0 24.3
Nepal 19.9 23.7
Bangladesh 18.6 25.4

There was a considerable range — between men in Germany, who wait until they’re 34.1 years old to marry, and those in Nepal, who, on average, get married for the first time at 23.7 years of age. For the women, the oldest age at first marriage was 31.8 years in Ireland (closely followed by Germany, where it was 31.7 years). In Bangladesh, on average women get married for the first time at just 18.6 years old, the youngest of any country in the recent data.

If you do look around at all those weddings, Ian, and feel pressure to get married, remember that men tend to spend more time on this planet before they get hitched for the first time than women do. It could be worse!

Hope the numbers help,


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