Believe It Or Not, Most Women Eventually Marry

Statistics Show Most Women Eventually Marry

If you believe marriage is in decline, think again. A new government report has found that 8 in 10 women will get married by the time they turn 40, a figure that is virtually unchanged from the 1990s.

82 percent of high school graduates will marry by the age of 40 and 89 percent of college graduates will as well.

“The idea that marriage is on the decline and fading away, that picture is misleading,” said Andrew Cherlin, a demographer at Johns Hopkins University.

“Lifetime marriage is far lower today than it was during the peak years in the 1950s, when more than nine-tenths of the adult population married at some point in their lives. But the new report suggests that the decline may have stopped in recent decades,” Mr. Cherlin said, as lifetime marriage rates have changed little since the 1990s.

The real changes in society aren’t that marriage is somehow obsolete, but rather that:

a) Divorce rates are still high because people marry too quickly based on attraction rather than values.
b) Women are having kids at epic rates outside marriage – 50% of women between 20-30 give birth out of wedlock
c) People get married much later than they used to.

But, no matter how you slice it, most women do eventually marry. According to the report, 82 percent of high school graduates will marry by the age of 40 and 89 percent of college graduates will as well.

So for all the noise created by the fiercely independent “I never want to get married” types who criticize my advice for assuming that most people are looking for marriage, guess what?

Most people are looking for marriage.

If you’re not, you’re the exception, not the rule.

Read the full New York Times article here and share your comments below.

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  1. 1

    Evan, this quote is factually incorrect: “50% of women between 20-30 give birth out of wedlock.”

    Instead, what the study showed was that, of the births that occur to women under age 30, over half of them are out of wedlock.  These are mostly among women who did not complete college education.  Not that half of women in that age range are giving birth to out-of-wedlock babies.

    I have to say, I found Sarah Tavernise’s article to propagate some rather irritating biases.   For example, in the very first  paragraph, she discusses how “the drop in middle-income jobs reduced the supply of marriageable men” – implying that a man who doesn’t have a middle-income job isn’t marriageable.    Later, she refers to the 4-in-10 women currently married statistic as being “stark.” It’s only stark if one perceives a single woman’s life as being stark, which I think many on this board would disagree with.

    But thank you for posting this, because the Tavernise article links to the original CDC article, which is well-done, unbiased, and interesting.  

    1. 1.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      You’re right, Helen. I wrote that too hastily. Half of the babies are born out of wedlock, not half of the mothers. I don’t think that would make an appreciable difference in the overall point, but I did unintentionally get that one wrong.

  2. 2

    I always enjoy these Saturday posts–I like reading and digesting the underlying articles.  

    As a trained journalist, I always pause that articles like these (that go against the conventional wisdom and hype) don’t get talked about much.     

  3. 3

    For example, in the very first  paragraph, she discusses how “the drop in middle-income jobs reduced the supply of marriageable men” — implying that a man who doesn’t have a middle-income job isn’t marriageable.
    It’s not that his unmarriageable, it’s that his prospects for marriage (or long-term relationship) are very much reduced. This is because of hypergamy. Such a great word that is and really does much to explain how a woman’s attraction works.

  4. 4

    considering how many people these days are in committed relationships that aren’t actually ”marriage” it is not surprising about these statistics. They are only of a kind of schock value if looked at through the lens of the 1950’s.   
    And I am glad to hear 80% of women marry – and presumably so do 80 per cent of men.   For much the same reason – even though many choose not to, and still have children, for most people, marriage (ie a formal ceremony, legal agreement, whatever) is the choice.

    What saddens me is how many get divorced. More than once.

  5. 5

    Susan (5), while it saddens me too that so many people get divorced multiple times, I do want to point out that more than ever, society is encouraging people to leave marriages that are not fulfilling.   In the past, a bad marriage was one of those life experiences you just had to bear.   It’s liberating to remind myself that there’s nothing wrong with pursuing happiness – even if I have to get married later in life.  

  6. 6
    Evan Marc Katz

    The problem isn’t that people leave marriages too easily. Better to be single than in a miserable marriage. The problem is that people marry for the wrong reasons and often don’t choose partners that will make sense in 40 years. This is often the result of marrying in the midst of your first 18 months of passionate love, instead of waiting to see what your life looks like when the haze wears off.

    The goal shouldn’t be to lower the divorce rate, per se; it should be to lower the marriage rate and hope that those who get married (after 2 or 3 years) are more likely to stay together than those who get married too young and then have to “bear it” like Sabrina said above.

  7. 7

    @ Evan #7
    I definitely agree: the problem is not that there are too many divorces but that there are too many marriages. And also too many on-going relationships that are going nowhere. Also, we’re talking about different kinds of marriages when we compare today’s data with 1950s’ data. Compared to the 1950s, we do not need marriage anymore for social approval, access to sex and protection, and there is no more social pressure to remain married even if unhappy. However people have not yet learned how to create the new marriage, the one not based on social status and sex, but on friendship and compatibility of values in the long-term. A marriage that we do not keep despite being unhappy, but a marriage we do not leave because we made a decision for wrong reasons.
    Human beings need a bit more enlightment, that’s all : )
    Where I disagree is with the implied idea that 2 or 3 years of dating is such a major part of the solution. To me, what really matters is what you do with your dating time.
    Taking that long is a good idea for 20-something people who are not experienced enough in the reality of life, or the ones who are really subject to “chemistry highs”, “haze”, or any other “drug-like” feelings during courtship. It’s not the case of everyone. I was once subject to this craziness, and I’m no longer a victim of it. I know how to avoid it by avoiding certain types of men, avoiding physical interactions early on, and keeping the process primarily mind-based instead of emotion-based.
    It can also be good to take more time when people meet their partner before having finished figuring themselves out, before they have carefully studied what a marriage is and is not, and when they really feel the need for more time to thoroughly investigate character, compatibility, and life goals. But that implies being aware of all of what is needed to be done during courtship. And pretty much nobody is that mindful at this stage of humanity development. If they were, there will be less marriages and less divorces! No amount of time will help if you do not even know what you need to do with your time.
    What is needed more than timeline rules is using whatever amount of time you’re giving yourself to seriously investigate the potential of a specific relationship by focusing on getting to know your partner in depth and evaluate compatibility in the long-term. It is crucial to avoid falling into a dating routine when you do the relationship instead of evaluating and investigating it. It’s what happens when people move in and start doing something looking like a marriage without having the certainty of their compatibility and the commitment that are so needed to sustain such relationship.  
    If you need 2-3 years, fine. You sure allow the “haze” to dissipate if you were in a haze. But you take a big risk of falling into a routine that is comfortable but yet does not say anything about long-term compatibility. If you are above 30 you also take the risk of wasting precious years of your life. The 30s are the most precious years, especially for a woman. I see lot of people dating multiple years, living together, etc, and yet not progressing in collecting data points and making decisions based on these data points. I also see women being strung along by men who say that they will “eventually” want to be married. Yeah, right!
    That’s why, Evan, although I agree pretty much with all of your advice about early dating, I disagree on your longer-term time rules. Or maybe I would agree if you would expand on them. At 33 I do not have time/energy for another 3 three-year relationships. I personally stick to 12-18 months as a timeline for the courtship phase because I prefer not to waste two more years for no reason (I know what to look for, I’m not in any haze, and I’m givng the guy all the facts early on, the amazing girlfriend experience as well as the challenges of my character). I’m at the 12 months mark now in the investigation of my boyfriend and our potential, and I still have – ever since the first very date – two feel strongly grounded in the reality of dating, life, and who he is. No need for two more years. In a few weeks, we’ll make a decision. I’m ready to walk away if we can not agree.

  8. 9

    Evan @ #7

    I agree with you. Speaking as someone who married  at age 22, and got divorced a little over 5 years later, I advise anyone who asks me to wait until at least their late 20s to get married.

    It’s not that marriages of those who marry young cannot work out, or that young adults  choose bad partners. My ex-husband was a wonderful man, loving, romantic, supportive. It’s that you just simply don’t know yourself at 22. I can categorically say that I was more in love with the idea of what I thought marriage would be, and it’s a feeling that I have seen to be widespread among young women. They want the security and status that marriage provides (and who can really blame them for that?) without the long-term vision of what being married to that person day in and day out for the next 40  years would be like.

    I think the idea that you should hold off till you are slightly older before you get married holds especially for educated, intelligent, complex individuals. You have a better sense of self, of what your needs, desires and goals are at age 30, than at 22, and you are less susceptible to the opinions of others, and of society.

    I don’t think it’s for us to condemn, in any way, those who get divorced. I think it’s for us as a society to encourage people to think very long and hard before getting married in the first place.

  9. 10

    Hmm, really? I’m still doubtful that any woman of the under-35 cohort can any longer assume and count on getting married, no matter how great a catch she is, no matter how hard she tries, no matter how many dates she goes on, no matter how reasonable she is with requirements. I just don’t see a lot of people feeling the need for a relationship, or they are searching for something that they will never find and are the type that can never be happy with another person. Or, they pass up a lot of really good people for “the one,” only to have to break up later.

    I rolled my eyes at the couple in the movie Bridesmaids who at the beginning were having sex nonstop, even in the bathroom at restaurants, and some years down the line it shows them growing to resent each other and divorcing.   How many good people did each of them pass up? I felt no sympathy for those characters.  Men never seem to get that it’s not about that, they’re looking for a “type,” a checklist, chemistry, and trying to find someone who doesn’t think that way is like playing the lottery. Even Evan, as good a game as he talks about his wife being the best woman for him, rejected dozens of great women before meeting her, for all the wrong reasons. His wife simply won the lottery by coming along when he was 35 or so (the age when even serial daters start to get tired) and had she come along when he was 31, she would have gotten the brush-off, too.

  10. 11

    Hey Mia – you can’t know that about Evan and his wife. While timing is important, some people just really do seem to be really well matched.

    I agree however that it is hard to look at the facts objectively and see that there actually is a actually a very high likelihood of getting married when you keep getting knock back after knock back. Objectively you have as much chance as anyone else the same age. Subjectively, it is however very difficult to believe that if you keep getting knock back after knock back particularly the older you get. When that happens over and over you start to take it personally and think that you are unlovable (as I did in a tearful conversation with a friend earlier today about how every man who I have ever had a relationship with in the last 19 years has left me and I must therefore be the most unlovable person in the history of humankind). Statistics don’t help much at that stage. It may however be worth considering something like cognitive behavioural therapy in addition to changing dating approaches because otherwise these negative beliefs will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    I say this now because even when I was younger I always felt sympathy for women who weren’t married in their late 30s and uncomfortable watching films like Bridget Jones because I always has a deep seated fear that I was going to be one of them – which is of course exactly what has happened. You need to change your mind set now (as do I) and focus on the positive but I know that it is very hard to do.

  11. 12

    Mia, I lurk on here sometimes and have seen a couple of your comments in this vein–I was wondering, do you live in NYC or another big city like that by any chance?   I’ve heard NYC is a really tough dating market because of the “checklist” factor you bring up–i.e., everybody thinks they can do even better than they’re doing right now, because there are so many options (especially for men) and people tend to establish careers/families late anyway.   I was just curious if you were in a competitive, slow-to-settle-down market like that, since the tenor of your comments makes it sound like you’re someplace where that might be a frustrating factor.   (In the small Midwestern city where I live, it’s the opposite–everybody paired off early and I’m feeling left behind at 25…)

  12. 13

    @ Fusee 8

    I agree with you about the timelines. Wilst I think that if you are under 30 you may need 2-3 years to evaluate a partner (and also clarify your own goals and develop your relationship skills) I really do not thing people over 30 need to spend 2-3 years on a relationship to know if it is  right or wrong for them.After a year of dating, for God’s sake, what is it you still don’t know about the other person in terms  od establishing your compatibility??! And if there ARE things you still need to  establish, get on and ask them about it!    

    I have a friend who is turning 40 in August. She and her boyfriend have just celebrated their “one year dating” anniversary. She seems very happy with him, but they haven’t  really talked about marriage, moving in together, or made concrete plans about having children-   although they have raised the question of children, nothing has been decided. He also, the last time I asked, had not yet said “I love you”.  She insists she is fine with all this as “its only been a year” but I find it all quite odd, to be honest. At 39, I simply don’t feel a woman who may yet want children should be dithering around “taking it slow” like this – if there are things she still needs to know about him in order to decide if he’s right for her, then she needs to get on and find out about these things. If, on the other hand, it is he who is dwdling along, I feel she needs to start asking him seriosuly about his intentions. To trundle along for 2-3 years under the guise of “getting to know each other” is nonsense. It is simply another  ruse that men will employ to avoid stepping up and taking a decision. Men, after a year of dating you ought to know if you want to marry a woman or not. If you do, then propose. if you don’t then let her go so she can meet someopne who does. What is going to change in another year or two years? Nothing much, as far as I can see.

    1. 13.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      @Helene and @Fusee – I’m not going to make this a long retort, but I will state quite strongly that not only do you not truly know someone after 1 year – especially if you’re still riding a dopamine high – but that you should not be making FORTY YEAR decisions after 1 year. If your love is true, it’ll still be standing a year later.

      And if you start to get panicky because “HE SHOULD JUST KNOW” and pressure him to marry you after 1 year, you’re going to alienate and/or lose MOST men. I wrote about this extensively in my Rori Raye post. It’s not just about YOUR needs and YOUR timeline. Your best bet is to give a marriage oriented man time to choose you on HIS terms instead of deciding arbitrarily that 1 year makes sense to you.

  13. 14

    LB – I’ve never lived in NYC (shudder!), but lived in major East Coast metro areas until six months ago moving to a medium sized Midwestern city.    No matter I am (east or west, online or off) I meet intelligent but not  highly-educated,  player, alpha men, yet still are extraordinarily picky , super into their careers and friends to the exclusion of anything else, maybe superficially open to a relationship but clearly don’t have things figured out and can’t be made happy. So unfortunately, I don’t see a world in which 90 percent of my college-educated cohort gets married. It’s really sad how many people in the dating realm have lost any sense of humanity and emotion – it’s a nation of emotionally unavailable zombies staggering around.

  14. 15

    Mia, I really do understand where you’re coming from because I’m in the midst of that myself.   I think that mindset is everywhere and not just in large metro areas.   I live in a more suburban area but still run into those types of men all the time.   Sometimes dating feels like repeatedly getting punched out by Mike Tyson, and trying to somehow still remain standing even after receiving all those blows.   However, I am also trying to change my mindset to a more positive place, difficult as it may be.   Getting married later in life isn’t necessarily a bad thing, when you’re more mature, established in life and know yourself better (not to put down people who marry young, because I do know people who got married at 19 who are still happily together. It’s just to say there are both positives and drawbacks to marrying either earlier or later in life–and marrying late also has some advantages, so it isn’t the end of the world when you haven’t married yet).  I’m actually encouraged by this article that even though I’m an older woman at 33, perhaps it isn’t necessarily too late to get married and it can still happen even at this late stage.   Even as discouraged as I am right now, I just refuse to believe that of all the millions of guys on this planet, there isn’t ONE who I can be happy with. I’m encouraged by some of my friends (and my own sister) who found love even in their early to mid-30s, right when they were about to throw in the towel–and these statistics affirm that perhaps it isn’t too late.   Right now, I’m just trying to stay positive.   If there are no more good, relationship-oriented men out there, you would think that weddings would just stop happening after a certain point–but these stats show that marriage continues (and the New York Times and other publications keep churning out wedding announcements so women keep finding relationship-oriented men somehow. I especially get encouraged by the wedding announcements of older ladies like myself, to show how it’s still possible).  

    1. 15.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Well said, Christine.

      And, to Mia, regardless of whether you see a world in which 90 percent of your college-educated cohort eventually gets married, guess what? That’s EXACTLY what’s happening. Perhaps these numbers will change in twenty years, but the title of the article still reads, “Believe it or not, most women get married”. Guess you don’t believe it, even though it’s true.

  15. 16

    As for how long to date before getting married, I’m not entirely sure what the right answer is. I know people who only dated a few months before marriage and are still happily married years later–and others who got divorced even after dating for two years or more.   My own sister met her husband at 33 and married him two years later (then had my nephew at 37). I’ve also known lots of her friends who followed a similar trajectory of dating for two or more years before marriage, even though they were in their 30s.   I do sympathize with the posters on this board who don’t think they have enough time to take things slowly.   Sometimes I feel that way too–that if I find a possible prospect, I won’t have the same luxury to take things slowly as a young 20-something.   However, I’ve also seen people like my sister who took her time dating even in their 30s, and then go on to happy marriages and kids.   So it’s also difficult for me to say that I’d definitely have to shorten the dating time frame either.   I’m still working that out for myself.

  16. 17

    Christine, where in the world is 33 old? that is the best age to be, in my opinion, especially if you are willing to date slightly older men 38-44.
    It’s sooo young!! Ok, I didn’t meet my man till I was 39 and got married at 41, so what do i know? I know that it’s really never too late as long as you have the right attitude. (Men love happy, fun, smart women).

  17. 18

    @ Christine, well said indeed.   I’m 34 and there are days I give up hope,   but generally I refuse to give up.   My dad always has said to me it only takes one and that gives me hope.   And unlike job huntiNg he has reminded me that in dating no one asks for a resume. I’ve been around loNg enough to see many mid to late 30s friends meet the one against all odds even in major metro cities.

    @mia I often see your posts and I don’t get it.   You sound like me and my friends just on really bad days.   Most of my friends have good days and periods and marry. I hope you do too.

  18. 19

    In Belgium (Europe) recent studies have shown that 46% of kids born in 2009 were born outside of marriage. This is because most 20-30 olds do not marry anymore over here, instead of marrying they “buy a house together” and “have a kid together” (“that is more permanent than some paper saying that you are married”). We also have a legal construction called “official coresidence” that covers quite a lot of the protection that marriage also offers: inheritance, the state sees you as “one”, etc. However most of these people will marry later on, when the kids are 3 to 10 years old, or when they have been for let’s say 10 years.  

    So… this concept is against what quite a lot of dating coaches say: do not give your boyfriend everything (living together, kid) unless he marries you. You risk missing out on a good partner who is convinced that marriage ain’t the right wat anymore but who will still be there for you for the rest of his life.

  19. 20

    Christine, I’ve been surprised at several of your posts that make 33 sound practically over the hill. Most women I know in their early 30s still look young and could pass for being in their 20s. Plenty of early-mid 30s men would date a woman of the same age if she was attractive and had a good personality. Age only seems to get more problematic 35-40, because of the biological clock issue, and a lot of women that age really do start to look old and tired unless they’ve taken really good care of themselves. But I think this idea that 30s men exclusively want twentysomething women is a bit exaggerated – probably more true online, but not necessarily in real life. I know a powerful and successful woman at work who was divorced in her 20s, chose not to remarry, but kept herself in shape, attractive, wore stilettos and miniskirts, maintained a very feminine aura, and she was continuing to snag alpha  men into her late 40s as boyfriends. Some people pull it off, I guess.

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