Marital Status

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

Declining proportions of adults are married. Although the number of currently married people has grown 23% since 1970 (from 95 million in 1970 to 116 million in 1996), the number of unmarried adults has grown significantly faster, doubling from 38 million to 77 million. These increases resulted in a decline in the proportion of adults age 18 and over who are married, from 72% in 1970 to 60% in 1996.

Declines in the proportion of adults currently married have occurred for whites, blacks, and Hispanics,1 but the changes have been most pronounced for blacks. In 1996, 63% of white adults were currently married, down from 73% in 1970. Similarly, the proportion of Hispanics who were currently married declined from 72% to 58% between 1970 and 1996. Among black adults, 42% were currently married in 1996, a considerable decrease from 64% in 1970.

Divorced population growing fastest. The currently divorced population is the fastest growing marital status category. The number of divorced people has more than quadrupled, from 4.3 million in 1970 to 18.3 million in 1996. They represented 10% of adults age 18 and over in 1996, up from 3% in 1970.

Never-married adults more than doubled since 1970. In 1996, 44.9 million adults age 18 and older had never been married, more than twice the number in 1970 (21.4 million). Never-married adults accounted for 23% of all adults, and made up the largest share (59%) of the unmarried population in 1996, followed by those who were divorced (24%) and those who were widowed (18%).

Sharp increases in the proportion never married have been primarily seen among men and women in their late 20s and early 30s. Between 1970 and 1996, the proportion of 25- to 29-year-olds who had never married more than tripled for women from 11% to 38% and more than doubled for men, from 19% to 52%. Among 30- to 34-year-olds, the proportions never married tripled from 6% to 21% for women and from 9% to 30% for men.

The proportion who never married has increased for whites, blacks, and Hispanics. Among whites, the proportion increased from 16% to 21% between 1970 and 1996. Thirty-nine percent of black adults in 1996 had never been married, up from 21% in 1970. For Hispanics, the proportion rose from 19% to 30% during this period.

Postponement of marriage continues. The median age at first marriage has been rising since the mid-1950s and has increased quite rapidly during the past two decades. In the 20 years spanning 1955 to 1975, the estimated median age at first marriage increased about one full year (from 22.6 years to 23.5 years for men and from 20.2 to 21.1 for women). Since 1975, the median age has increased more than three full years for men and women, climbing to 27.1 years for men and 24.8 years for women in 1996.

1. Hispanics may be of any race. NOTE: Data applies to the U.S. Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census, Current Population Reports, Series P20–496, Marital Status and Living Arrangements: March 1996.
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