01 January 2009

More On Marriage

In my previous post, I noted that marriage rates are down 30% from the level seen in the 1970s and 1980s, and that the decline in marriage rates is concentrated among those without college educations. Moreover, divorce is becoming more common among those without college educations, while become much less common among those with college educations.

In a nutshell, this is a consequence of men without college educations experiencing economic stagnantion (and in minority communities mass incarceration), while women have seen their economic prospects improve across the board and college educated men have seen their economic prospects improve greatly. The fact that most divorced people remarry within four years (women who don't suffer greatly economically), is also an important factor.

These trends are not a product of careless teens getting pregannt and having children. Teen birth rates hit an all time low in 2005 (they bumped up slightly the following year). Abortion rates are at a post Roe v. Wade low, and down about a third from the peak rate in 1980. In the 1970s, most births to unmarried mothers involved teenagers, now, just 23% of unmarried mothers are teenagers.

The decline in teen motherhood and declining abortion rates is happening despite the fact that people are having sex earlier. The median North American man, and the median North American woman first has sex early in their junior year of high school, at roughly sixteen and a half years old. The Canadian experience tracks the American one fairly closely, and there at least, the median person had sex at about age nineteen prior to the sexual revolution of the late 1960s, and at about age eighteen in by the early 1980s.

Meanwhile, those who do marry, marry later in life than at any other time in U.S. history. In 1960, the median age at first marriage was 23 for men and 20 for women. In 2007, the median age at first marriage was 28 for men and 26 for women. Prior to the 1980s, the median age at first marriage for women had always remained at 22 years of age or younger. From 1950 to 1970, the median age at first marriage for women was under 21 years of age.

Thus, in 1960 the average man had about four years and the average woman had about one year of premarital sexual activity. Now, that figure is about twelve years for men and ten years for women.

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